Improved public safety response was among the big reasons Sandy Springs incorporated in 2005. The following year, its police and fire departments started operations, and have become widely respected for making good on those improvements and offering popular classes to residents.

A publicity photo of SSFD fire trucks.

In the past 15 years, both departments have grown and have seen significant upgrades in equipment and vehicles. However, they were not first in line for new facilities. The City prioritized City Springs, the roughly $300 million civic center that opened in 2018 with a new City Hall. The Sandy Springs Police Department (SSPD) and municipal court, however, remained in rented space in the same Roswell Road office park that City Hall also occupied. SSPD has said its current HQ at 7840 Roswell, besides being hard to find, lacks proper security. Meanwhile, the Sandy Springs Fire Department (SSFD)  has occupied some aging fire stations and says it needs more while sharing two with the cities of Atlanta and Roswell.

Now that’s finally changing. The City in 2020 authorized up to $60 million in bonds to fund a new public safety headquarters at 620 Morgan Falls Road and the construction of new fire stations. It also spent about $11 million buying the 12.5-acre Morgan Falls property, which features a four-story office building erected in 1990 that most recently was the U.S. headquarters of the financial services company Worldpay.

The future public safety headquarters at 620 Morgan Falls Road. Credit: Rob Knight

The refurbished office building will house the municipal court and a police headquarters that will include gym and indoor shoot-out training facilities now housing on Hildebrand Drive and in Doraville, respectively. A new fire station will be on the Morgan Falls site as well.

The timeline of the new public safety HQ remains imprecise. “If everything goes as planned (which, we know, this isn’t always the case), we expect to be in our new home July 2023,” says SSPD spokesperon Sgt. Salvador Ortega.

Meanwhile, the City is rebuilding one fire station in the City Springs district and is laying the groundwork for building a new one in the panhandle.

Police Department

SSPD’s establishment in 2006 as one of Georgia’s few new municipal police departments in decades was a big deal, marked by a July 1 parade of patrol cars on Roswell Road as they formally took over command from the Fulton County Police Department.

SSPD’s early years were rocked with scandals. A prominent police department donor’s lavish gifts of weapons to officers and his throwing of a police party featuring the firing of machine guns was followed by an alleged kickback scheme involving unauthorized off-duty work by officers. Those scandals led to the 2008 resignation of Gene Wilson, the City’s first police chief. That same year, an undercover officer had sex with prostitutes during sting operations; after reprimands, he filed suit alleging discrimination.

SSPD has seen more stability under its third and current chief, Kenneth DeSimone, who has led the department since 2013. A retired lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve, DeSimone is also known for his longtime involvement in the operations of American Legion Post 140 in Buckhead, which also serves veterans in the Sandy Springs area.

Most day-to-day administration of SSPD is conducted by the deputy chief, a role currently filled by Craig Chandler.

Sandy Springs has long had relatively low crime rates, and SSPD long boasted of its impact, particularly on residential burglaries. However, the violent crime rate has crept up in the past three years, and like most cities since 2020, virtually all major crime categories have increased significantly. (It remains important to note that the absolute numbers in many categories remain low, and that some of the most disturbing types of crime — murder, rape and aggravated assault — are more likely to be committed by someone the victim knows rather than a random stranger.)

The latest crime stats from SSPD as of November 2021, showing an increase year-over-year in most categories.

Today, SSPD has 149 full-time officers and 183 total employees. For purposes of patrols and investigations, SSPD divides the city into two districts. The North District roughly covers everywhere north of the downtown area, while the South District roughly includes City Springs, Riverside and inside-the-Perimeter neighborhoods.

SSPD serves as the headquarters of the regional North Metro SWAT Team, which also serves the cities of Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Johns Creek. SSPD has several special units, including a K-9 dog unit, a river rescue squad, a bicycle patrol and a drone program. The department also operates a local version of the Georgia Department of Transportation’s HERO program, offering free assistance to motorists in disabled vehicles, such as fixing a flat tire or providing gasoline.

An SSPD traffic response vehicle, which aids stranded motorists. Credit: SSPD

SSPD also has programs that allow residents to become department volunteers and even perform limited police work. Citizens on Patrol provides marked cars and uniforms to volunteers who are authorized to direct traffic, write tickets for handicapped parking violations, and conduct safety checks on homes and businesses that request them. The program requires significant training and time commitments and is popular with retirees. The Citizens Police Academy offers a behind-the-scenes look at the department, mostly as public relations, but also provides limited training that can qualify attendees to assist with public events, crime prevention talks and similar functions.

SSPD also offers a variety of courses and services to the public, such as women’s self-defense classes and free security checks of homes and businesses.

For full details, see the SSPD website. The department is also active on such social media as Facebook and Twitter.

Fire Department

Launched in December 2006, the SSFD is a full-service fire department and also performs EMS and rescue functions. The department also has stable leadership in Chief Keith Sanders, who has served since 2014. Sanders, who is also a sworn police officer, previously served as the fire chief and public safety director in the City of Alpharetta.

SSFD fights a house fire on Treadwick Drive in the panhandle area in October 2021. Credit: SSFD

Under Sanders, SSFD has retrofitted its fire truck fleet with smaller vehicles more suited to navigating today’s heavy traffic, speeding up response times and reducing maintenance costs. The city maintains a Class 2 rating from the Insurance Services Office — a measure of fire safety on a 1-to-10 scale where lower is better — which influences the insurance rates companies charge residents. Besides trucks, SSFD also has river rescue watercraft.

SSFD currently has four fire stations of its own and shares two with other cities:

Station 1, 1425 Spalding Drive. Dating to 1968, this panhandle-area station is scheduled to be replaced by the new station that will be built as part of the public safety headquarters on Morgan Falls Road.

Station 2, 135 Johnson Ferry Road. The original version of this station, located at the intersection of Sandy Springs Circle across the street from City Springs, was built in 1969. The aging facility was demolished in 2020 and is in the process of being rebuilt. For now, a temporary version of the station is operating at 6189 Roswell Road, on the other side of City Springs.

An illustration of the future Fire Station 2, which is being rebuilt at 135 Johnson Ferry Road. Credit: Hussey Gay Bell

Station 3, 6025 Raider Drive. Built in 2002, this station stands across the street from Riverwood International Charter School. Besides fire trucks, it also houses SSFD’s boats for rescues on the Chattahoochee River.

Station 4, 4697 Wieuca Road, Atlanta. Dating to 1975, this station is operated by Sandy Springs, but sits just outside the city limits within the City of Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood. Under a mutual aid agreement, the station also responds to calls in Atlanta.

Station 5, 8025 Holcomb Bridge Road, Roswell. Officially the City of Roswell’s Fire Station 7, this facility sits just outside the city limits and, under an automatic aid agreement, houses a Sandy Springs fire truck that serves the panhandle area. Sandy Springs is in the planning stage of building its own, actual Station 5 at 7800 Mount Vernon Road, at the intersection with Spalding Drive, to provide full-service coverage in that area.

Atlanta Fire Station 27, 4260 Northside Drive, Atlanta. Wholly operated by the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department, this Buckhead fire station sits near the Sandy Springs border and serves that area under an automatic aid agreement.

An SSFD firefighter rescues a pet rabbit from an apartment fire on Abernathy Road in November 2021. Credit: SSFD

SSFD offers a wide variety of classes and services to the community, from CPR training to disposal of old medicine. The department also offers a Citizens Fire Academy that provides limit but hands-on training in firefighting, as well as certified training in CPR and use of automated external defibrillators. Graduates of the citizens academy are eligible to join a more serious program called the Fire Corps, which is a group of volunteers that assist firefighters in incident responses and other activities.

For more details, see the SSFD website.