'Community policing' working, Waynesboro chief says
by Summer Moore
WAYNESBORO, Ga. -- Yolanda Hart wants her son to grow up thinking of the police as his ally, not his enemy.
“People around here have a hard time trusting the police,” she said. “But I want Jamal to think different.”
Hart, a resident of Magnolia Acres, in the past a high-crime area for Waynesboro, said her 3-year-old son often will play catch with one of the patroling officers who drop by a few times a day.
“They (the officers) are good about talking to the kids,” she said.
Her opinion is why Waynesboro Police Chief Alfonzo Williams says his community policing initiatives are working.
After taking the post in February 2011, Williams said he immediately put programs into place that directly resulted in a drop in crime in the area. Some of those include putting more officers on patrol, creating a citizen's police academy and a citizens on patrol program.
“We had an aggressive plan,” he said. “We came in and worked that plan.”
According to a 2011 Annual Report from the department, robbery dropped 62 percent from 2010 to 2011. Burglaries were down 37 percent and assaults were down 21 percent for the same time.
Ward 2 City Councilman Herman Brown, the chairman of the public safety committee, said the drop in crime in Waynesboro has been obvious since Williams took over.
“I can tell by looking through our paper crime is down,” said the 5-year council member. “The reaction from the citizens has been overwhelmingly positive.”
When Williams became chief, the first thing he said he did was restructure the department.
The agency underwent a “massive restructuring,” including the hiring of a new assistant chief, investigative supervisor, housing authority police officers, road patrol officers and a housing authority supervisor. He also assigned two K-9 units to existing officers and hired one part-time traffic officer.
Before Williams took over, Waynesboro had two officers on at all times. Now it has four to seven.
“Stepping up the number of patrol officers has helped,” said Officer Antonio Burton, adding the Waynesboro policemen are more apt to do what needs to be done if they have readily available backup.
Five officers left when Williams took over, and Brown said he knew there were some people who were upset with the restructuring of the department. However, he said after it was done, he noticed there were less officers who called in sick.
A few months after Williams became chief, “the officers told me they liked coming to work now,” Brown said. “They said it was enjoyable.”
He also said he has seen an increase in the number of officers around town, and patrolling areas that were not being covered before.
Once the internal department issues were worked out, Williams focused on his community oriented policing and problem solving, or COPPS, initiative.
One idea Williams immediately put into place was the citizen's police academy, which he said is for people interested in law enforcement but never had time to pursue it.
The department held classes for one hour a week for 10 weeks, each class focusing on a different area including Georgia law, criminal investigations and shoot-don't shoot training exercises. After completing the course, Williams' hope is the citizens will go back to their neighbors and friends and share what they learned. Through the relationship forged with officers during training, Williams hopes more people will become aware of crime and suspicious activity and will be helpful to law enforcement in the future.
“We want to show the people of Waynesboro we are totally transparent,” he said. “They can come through the doors or call us anytime.”
The citizens on patrol program is one Burton said has been a big help for the patrol officers.
Volunteers are put through a training class where they are taught basic police skills. When they graduate, they are allowed to check out the citizens on patrol car, which is clearly marked, and ride around any part of the city they choose. When they spot suspicious activity, they call an officer.
“They can see a lot we can't,” Burton said. “People don't duck and hide from the car because they don't think they can do anything. That allows us to come in and find things we wouldn't normally find.”
Overall, Williams said he is satisfied with the direction the department is headed. He said he will continue focusing on community policing and interacting with the citizens of Waynesboro.
“We have restored the public's trust,” he said. “Moral is up, pay is up for the officers and we have remained fiscally responsible by reducing overtime. Plus, crime is down significantly.”
Burke County Sheriff Greg Coursey agreed Williams' approach seems to be working. He said his deputies are now rarely called in for backup.
“It's a lot easier on us,” he said. “He has been more proactive than reactive. You can tell the difference.”
From the FBI
Journey Through Indian Country
Part 1: Fighting Crime on Tribal Lands
Driving along a remote dirt road on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico recently, a rancher crested a ridge and noticed two animals intent on something in a nearby ditch. As he approached, one of the scavengers loped away—the other looked up, its mouth glistening with blood. The rancher guessed one of his sheep had been attacked, but he soon discovered something much different: the discarded body of a murder victim. It was going to be another busy day for our agents in Indian Country.
By law, the FBI is responsible for investigating the most serious crimes within Indian Country—homicide, child sexual assault, and violence against women among them. The numbers of such offenses are striking: approximately one out of every four violent crimes prosecuted federally by the Department of Justice occurs on Indian reservations.
Investigating crimes on native lands poses a unique challenge for FBI personnel and their law enforcement partners. Working in Indian Country, as we call it, often means operating in isolated, forbidding terrain where cultural differences abound. Some older Native American people, for example, do not speak English. Dwellings may lack electricity or running water. On many reservations there are few paved roads or marked streets. Agents might be called to a crime scene in the middle of the night 120 miles away and given these directions: “Go 10 miles off the main road, turn right at the pile of tires, and go up the hill.” In some areas, crime scenes are so remote that cell phones and police radios don't work.
Investigators must also deal with the emotional strain of the work—the brutality and frequency of the crimes can take a toll.
“The work our people are doing on the reservations is truly front-line,” said Carol K.O. Lee, special agent in charge of our Albuquerque office. “Agents have to be independent and adaptable to get the job done, because even with the excellent help of our law enforcement partners like the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the territory is so vast you rarely have the resources you need.”
Nationwide, the FBI has investigative responsibilities for about 200 federally recognized Indian reservations. More than 100 agents in 19 of the Bureau's 56 field offices work Indian Country matters full time—and we've represented federal law enforcement on tribal lands since the 1920s. In New Mexico, home to a portion of the Navajo Nation—the largest reservation in the country, occupying an area bigger than the state of West Virginia—agents investigate cases against a backdrop of majestic mesas and stark beauty.
The murdered man mentioned above was found eight miles from the nearest paved road, not far from the landmark Shiprock formation sacred to the Navajo people. “The victim went out drinking with a bunch of guys and ended up dead,” said Special Agent Mike Harrigan, who supervises an Indian Country squad. The body has been identified and the death has been ruled a homicide, Harrigan explained, and investigators are tracking down leads. He noted that if the rancher hadn't happened by, or the body had been dumped a few feet further from the road, “there is a good chance the victim never would have been discovered. Unfortunately, killings like this are all too common in Indian Country.”
Despite the difficulties they face, the dedication and commitment of FBI personnel in Indian Country has helped make Native American communities safer, said Special Agent in Charge Lee. “We have a long way to go, but we are definitely making a difference.”
‘Gravity of Violence'
Ken Gonzales, New Mexico's U.S. Attorney, points out that there are “a lot of good things happening in Indian Country, a lot of efforts by our Native-American leaders to bring jobs to the reservations and to improve access to education.”
But the state's top law enforcement officer is also painfully aware of the “gravity of violence” seen on Indian reservations. “It's a kind of brutality that I don't think a lot of people understand completely,” he said. “It's really quite startling.”
Homicides, child sexual assaults, and domestic violence against women are commonplace, Gonzales said. “It's widely known that Native American women suffer violent crime at a rate three and a half times greater than the national average. One third of all Native American women will be raped in their lifetimes. So these are serious issues.”
Gonzales said that since becoming U.S. Attorney in 2010, “I've put the work of Indian Country very high on my list of things to get done. I created a stand-alone section—we call it our Indian Country Crime Section—and we've stocked it with some of our best and brightest Assistant U.S. Attorneys. Their job is to do nothing but Indian Country work.”
The prosecutors work closely with the FBI. “We maintain a very regular and open line of communication with the agents working in Indian Country,” Gonzales said. “So it makes for a very good working relationship. The FBI has a very strong presence in many of these communities. They have been doing very difficult work, and doing it in a very good way, for many years. My office relies tremendously on their expertise.”
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