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Letters to the Editor (2) - September 20 2006

Criminal minds

INSIDER'S PERSPECTIVE

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Thank you Mara Shalhoup for your article ("Breaking In: What criminals can teach us about fighting crime," Aug. 31). I have worked the Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway for over eight years as a city of Atlanta police officer. Volkan Topalli says the biggest difference between those who turn to crime and those who don't is how far into the future they can think. In my experience, crime happens when opportunity and immediate gratification meet.

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First of all, I want to make it perfectly clear that there are many law-abiding citizens in southwest Atlanta. There are elderly, single parent, and intact families striving to make it. Topalli is correct when he said that opportunities are lacking. In a one-mile area on Hollowell Parkway, there are three Family Dollar stores. There are also numerous mom-and-pop convenience stores. Even a McDonald's left the area several years ago. Who ever heard of a McDonald's packing it up? Where are the businesses and corporations where people can make an honest living? The vast majority of children growing up in Bowen Homes, Bankhead Courts, Hollywood Courts, and the Bluff don't see college in their future.

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Many kids in low-income areas see dealing drugs as an easy way to make money. They have seen enough to know that they may get shot or beat up, but without that "vision" into the future, it's all a cost of making money. What can society do about this? Is there anything? Most of the children are now being raised in a one-parent household. There is a noticeable lack of committed positive male role models for these children. A woman who is a single parent can only teach a son so much. I have tried to get kids involved in different programs with positive role models but it is always short-lived and temporary. Kids need long-term stability and consistency. If we don't catch some of the kids by the time they are 9 or 10 years old, we lose them.

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Society has to wake up. I don't believe we can change the adults but with the children there is still the possibility. Some kids will grow into criminals. We have a juvenile point system in Fulton County. If a child has not amassed enough "points," he or she has to be turned over to a parent with a copy of charges. We caught a 15 and 16 year old breaking into a brand new home the other day. One of them just laughed and laughed. He knew he was being released to his mom. We have let children go home to mom or dad who have been caught driving stolen cars, burglarizing homes, even committing a strong-arm robbery. Many times these parents couldn't care less. What is my point? There will always be criminals, but we as a society can do more to get to the kids before they turn hardened and go in and out of the prison system.

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The churches could be more involved within their communities. Kids need to see that they have more role models rather than just the proverbial rap artists and athletes. It should be OK for children in lower-income areas to get an education so they will have more opportunities. Topalli mentions learning from burglars about why they burglarize a house. It is true that west of the Georgia Dome, a major housing boom is in swing. The vast majority of our burglaries are now these houses. These developers (who don't necessarily live in the area) finish the homes and put all the appliances, lighting fixtures, hot water heaters, etc., in them before they are sold. Crack addicts go in and steal the copper tubing or sell the appliances for quick cash. The developers just write it off on their insurance but it brings the community down. Most of these new homes are vacant and now boarded up as they wait for a sale.

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Are there quick fixes for any of this? No. We can blame parents, society, bad schools, police, etc., for crime but there are no easy answers. We do need an open dialogue on it. I fear most folks tiptoe around the issues and feel that as long as it doesn't reach their neighborhood, then it's not their problem.

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-- A.E. Soeldner, Atlanta

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Department of Corrections

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In the Sept. 14 Media Mashups, CL mislabeled and published the wrong artwork for a review of DJ Krush's Stepping Stones: The Self-Remixed Best. Creative Loafing sincerely regrets the error.