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Move puts more Atlanta officers on streets

Jeffry Scott
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

ATLANTA, Ga. — Traffic accidents on Atlanta interstates henceforth will be handled by the Georgia State Patrol in an agreement that Atlanta Police Chief Richard J. Pennington said Friday will free up APD officers to fight crime on city streets.

The agreement, announced at a morning news conference on the Jackson Street Bridge over Freedom Parkway downtown, means 42 state troopers dispatched from posts around metro Atlanta will handle wrecks on I-20, I-75, I-85 and I-285 in the city, as well as on the Downtown Connector and Ga. 166, also known as Langford Parkway.

Noting that "it takes a police officer an average of 51 minutes to handle an accident," Pennington said the arrangement with the state patrol will free up about 6,000 hours of city police services for crime fighting.

Last year, Atlanta police handled about 4,100 accidents on roads the state patrol will take over.

Col. Bill Hitchens, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety, said it's not the first time the state patrol has stepped in to help the APD.

"In 1978, we did the same thing," Hitchens said. "We had what we called the Atlanta Murder Detail. We brought in about 200 officers to handle the interstates to free up Atlanta police" to fight crime.

That collaboration lasted about eight weeks.

Hitchens and Pennington said Friday that they hope the latest arrangement is permanent. Atlanta's police are more than 200 officers below full strength.

Pennington said after the news conference that the APD hired 250 officers last year, and "this year our goal is to hire 300." He said the target is to have a force of 2,000, up from 1,786 currently.

To recruit officers, Atlanta police scheduled a job fair for 8 a.m. today at City Hall East, 675 Ponce de Leon Ave.

Hitchens said the state patrol plans to hire 205 more troopers during the next three years as part of Gov. Sonny Perdue's initiative to build the force.

Copyright 2008 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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