Atlanta Chief of Police Erika Shields. Curtis Compton/

Police vow to increase patrols near Georgia Tech campus

Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields vowed Thursday to step up patrols near the Georgia Tech campus, conceding the department did not respond aggressively enough to what’s become a rash of armed robberies in the area.

There have been seven robberies in the Home Park area since Jan. 10, police said, the latest occurring at 2:30 a.m. Thursday. While police said no one was harmed in any of the robberies, the incidents have once again raised concerns about student safety. Georgia Tech students were robbery victims in at least four of the incidents, officials confirmed Thursday.

“The department failed to respond quickly and severely enough when we had our first couple (of robberies) and I accept responsibility to that,” Shields told reporters. “I commit to you that we will rein this in. We will make arrests, and we are going to change the narrative in this area.”

Shields said her department will work with Georgia Tech police on efforts to improve safety in the area, suggesting the thieves may have gang ties. The chief said judges bear some responsibility, though, for what has been a long-standing complaint among some city leaders: that the court system is too lenient on repeat offenders.

“Just as APD must step up its game, the courts have to start accepting responsibility for this pattern of providing bond, adjudicating cases, glossing over criminal histories with the speed that they do,” she said.

Each robbery was committed at night, with several taking place near or after midnight. Several streets near the campus have just one street light on each block.

Pragadeesh Muthiah, 22, a first-year graduate civil engineering student, said the lighting issue has caused him to be more cautious.

“I usually don’t go out at night,” Muthiah said as he walked near the location of Thursday’s robbery.

Shields also said Thursday the department is in discussions with Georgia Power and others of ways to improve lighting in the area.

Georgia Tech students have been frequent targets in recent years of thieves stealing wallets, purses and electronic devices. Thursday, many students walked near campus wearing headphones or looking at their smartphones.

Georgia Tech has added routes to its Safe Ride Home program that include Home Park and a few other sites adjacent to campus. It has also extended service hours on its Stinger bus green route from 9 p.m. to midnight.