Fulton County leaders tout success of Court Watch, aimed at repeat offenders

Volunteers observe proceedings and assess whether the courts are serving the community fairly and efficiently.
Volunteers observe proceedings and assess whether the courts are serving the community fairly and efficiently.
Published: May. 2, 2023 at 5:25 PM EDT|Updated: May. 2, 2023 at 5:36 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - A crime-fighting program relaunched by the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office last summer is proving successful, according to Fulton County leaders.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, and leaders of law enforcement gathered at City Hall on Tuesday to celebrate the 137 citizen volunteers currently participating in the Court Watch program. Willis said their dedication to ensuring the system works, from arrests to sentencing, is invaluable.

“It takes all of us to do this,” Willis said. “We can’t just leave to the police, the DA. We need the community to be involved and what this shows you is that there are good citizens that love this community as much as I do, and they are willing to take their time and their efforts to make sure we all stay safe.”

The program focuses on repeat offenders. Members observe proceedings and assess whether the courts are serving the community fairly and efficiently. The program is a system of checks and balances between the courts and the prosecutor’s office to ensure the work police do pays off in the long run.

“[The organizer] will send us emails as for which repeat offenders are on the court docket and then you can choose to go to court in person or over Zoom,” William Harrison, a volunteer, explained. “You monitor the repeat offenders to see what their plea deals are. If they’ve gotten a bond or not and you report back. It’s a great learning experience.”

Repeat offenders are criminals with three or more felony convictions. In 2022, 26 percent of all felony arrests made by Atlanta police involved repeat offenders, according to a new report from the Atlanta Police Foundation. Thirty percent of arrests in 2021 were committed by repeat offenders.

Of the nearly 900 career criminals accounted for, forty-two percent are currently behind bars.

“Gang members, dangerous drug dealers, individuals with guns, and because of you taking the time to go to court, you ensure the work of our officers is not in vain,” said Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaun. “I want to thank you for that.”

Another crime-fighting strategy that’s engaging everyday citizens, providing transparency, and holding those in power accountable.

“It has kept everybody honest,” Willis said. “It’s made sure we all stay safer, and I think it’s part of the formal that’s making sure crime is on the decline. We are just at the beginning of turning this crime wave around.”

If you are interested in volunteering for Court Watch, click here.