Secured city

How David Wardell, vice president of Operations and Public Safety for the Atlanta Downtown Improvement District, helped deploy a city-wide monitoring plan that has kept the area safe


Downtown Atlanta is unique in the order of magnitude of daily population (200,000), number of properties and businesses (more than 17 million sq.ft.), entertainment and sporting special events and venues, conventioneers (5 million per year), the size of its government district and the associated activities (operations, advocacy and protests), and its critical infrastructure in such close proximity within the Downtown Improvement District's 220 blocks.

Atlanta is second only to Washington D.C. in number of federal employees. The City and County Headquarters complexes, along with the State Capitol and major offices are located within the Downtown's Government District, along with major federal facilities hosting more than 13,000 federal employees.

Downtown Atlanta has the fourth-largest convention center (Georgia World Congress Center with 2.1 million sq.ft. of exhibit space) in the country, but has the largest concentration of major special events venues clustered, including the Georgia Dome, Centennial Olympic Park and Philips Arena. Also included are the New World of Coke, the Georgia Aquarium and CNN. Downtown Atlanta draws hundreds of thousands daily for business, government, conventions, tourism and sporting events, resulting in the highest density of pedestrian traffic in the southeast on a daily basis.

With the consideration of the normal threat variables associated with the description of Downtown, combined with its core business interests and economic value, and of course, controlling crime (both actual and perceived), it became evident to those charged with ensuring the safety of our citizenry that we needed to do everything reasonably possible to be diligent in protecting our community.

As is the case with a number of large cities, Atlanta has been experiencing severe police shortages for a number of years, and is now on the path to fielding more police, but a protective multiplier was needed. The collective feeling was that surveillance cameras could provide that additional edge. Of course, convincing those financing the primary initiative that a return on investment (ROI) would be realized was a challenge. Business leaders want to see tangible results. This is not always easy when there is not a direct correlation between action and results.

The efforts were definitely worth it. We have seen a significant crime reduction in Part 1 Crimes (homicide, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and auto theft), with the most recent snapshot revealing a 34-percent reduction. Nuisance crimes have seen a significant reduction in incidents and complaints, which directly impacts our convention and hospitality business. In short, the cameras have effectively multiplied our surveillance, intervention and response capability significantly beyond the normal challenged staffing of the police department.

Taking Advantage of Relationships

Downtown Atlanta has enjoyed tremendous relationships between the public and private sector, dating back notably to the Olympic planning period, which has carried over to today. The discussion and projects involving camera surveillance in Downtown Atlanta since the 1996 Olympics went on for at least six years. The delay was primarily due to a lack of project funding and affordable technology.

After the Olympics, public agencies and private security entities - both contract and proprietary, as well as those in the corporate world - continued to engage in a mutually supporting relationship. However, we all shared a general feeling that we were not secure enough, and not doing all that we should be to provide for a safe environment.

The first challenge was to determine what we needed to accomplish our objectives. Our initial focus was the Downtown Business District, Hospitality and Hotel Industry, Convention and Special Events areas and venues, Government District (federal, state, city and county), and other high-priority venues and facilities of interest.

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