Brannon Hill, a refugee-dominated condominium community plagued with financial problems for a decade, is one of five anchors for criminal activity along Memorial Drive being targeted by the county’s police department.
“[Brannon Hill is] a problem that’s probably been going on for at least 10 years,” said Asst. Chief Mike Yarbrough, who heads the DeKalb Police Department’s uniform division. “It’s a draw for crime. It’s a precipitator of drug crimes.
“When you look at that location and the state people are living in within Brannon Hill, you would not see this type of homes in the worst of slums overseas,” Yarbrough said during a meeting addressing crime on Memorial Drive. “They are living in an area that is unacceptable to us. They are providing an operation base…for criminal activity and behavior.”
“Razing Brannon Hill from existence” would provide the Memorial Drive community with an excellent revitalization opportunity, Yarbrough said.
In addition to Brannon Hill, Yarbrough said, the police department has identified Memorial Inn and three Citgo gas stations on Memorial Drive as anchors for crime. For these locations, the police department is keeping records, including tax information and the number of crimes and convictions. Once criminal activity at the sites reaches a certain threshold, the department will send that information to the district attorney’s office for legal action against the property owners.
“When a place has so many arrests, many of them resulting in convictions, you can have the court declare that place a public nuisance,” said county District Attorney Robert James. A judge can require that owners close the building or that lessees lose their rental contract.
In addition, code enforcement and asset forfeiture action can be taken against property owners, James said.
“We’re on to something here that is going to make a significant difference not only on Memorial Drive but throughout the county,” said county police Chief William O’Brien. “For so long we we’ve been working by ourselves on the crime issues and problems that everybody’s encountering. We’re trying to get all the county offices involved with us.”
O’Brien said the department has made “tremendous steps” in slicing crime during the past several months.
According to statistics comparing Memorial Drive crime for April-July this year to crime during the same time period in 2010, there were 11 fewer residential burglaries and seven fewer commercial burglaries. Also, car break-ins were reduced by 53, while vehicular thefts dropped by 14. However, homicides increased from none last year to three this year.
Additionally, between April and July, police made three homicide arrests, 15 felony arrests, 35 misdemeanor arrests, 78 traffic arrests and 433 citation arrests.
Yarbrough said law enforcement, prosecutors, the judicial system, jail system and communities and business must work together to revitalize Memorial Drive.
“Or once we get done with the crime problem, it will just be a shell of a building there when we rid it of the criminal element,” Yarbrough said. “I’m not the community. I’m the enforcement arm. That’s what we do. Find me somebody to arrest; find me somebody to put into jail for what they shouldn’t be doing. Once it’s solved you’ve got to come into play.
“We need you to work as a community together to locate the businesses, draw the businesses, build the homes, build the stores that you want to come in the area and let us protect them for future development and a better community for all,” Yarbrough said.
The efforts of the police department are part of the county government’s strategic planning to address the “hot spots” of crime in the county.
“What we’ve decided to do was to work together in a cooperative fashion but an evidence-based fashion,” James said. “I know it sounds very simple, but heretofore we’ve not been having those conversations amongst ourselves.”
Addressing the crime and perception of crime is one way to improve the road once called the “golden corridor” from the state Capitol to Stone Mountain Park, said Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton.
“We’ve been talking and working a lot about the revitalization of Memorial Drive,” Sutton said. “I want to see Memorial Drive back to its former glory and even better. Memorial Drive could be and should be a major economic engine.”