Statesboro Police Department leaders shared plans, ideas and crime statistics with about 40 people Tuesday during the department's inaugural town hall meeting, held at the Averitt Center for the Arts.
Public Safety Director Wendell Turner said he hopes more people will attend future gatherings and become more involved in local policing.
Mayor Jan Moore opened the meeting with praise for the department's success in reducing crime.
"We're very blessed to have the public safety agencies we have," she said.
The safety of all residents, including students from East Georgia State College, Ogeechee Technical College and Georgia Southern University, is of key importance, she said.
The panel of speakers representing the police department were Turner, Lt. Kaleb Moore (training bureau commander), Capt. Chuck Forney (patrol bureau commander), Detective Lt. Rob Bryan (investigations bureau commander) and Maj. Scott Brunson, who oversees operations.
Turner gave a slide presentation, outlining the reduction in "part one" crimes such as rape, murder, armed robbery and aggravated battery, from 2009 to 2014. Overall crime dropped more than 17 percent since 2009, he said.
Over the past year, one certain type crime has dropped over 35 percent, he said. Following a series of armed robberies in the areas near Georgia Southern in late 2012, police stepped up patrol and focused more attention on those areas, and the drop in armed robberies near campus has been tremendous, he said.
Turner urged residents to take a stronger interest in policing, encouraging them to take the Citizens Police Academy course, become a volunteer, and sign up for special programs geared towards safer driving for teens and better security for local businesses.
"Crime is not a police problem," he said. "It is a community problem. We absolutely need your partnership and your help."
The Citizens Police Academy, an 11-week course that meets from 6-8 p.m. on Tuesdays, is "a phenomenal way to understand what we do on a daily basis and how we do it," Turner said. The next course is slated for the fall.
A new volunteer program encourages people, including students, to become involved by helping police with parades, clerical tasks and special events, freeing certified officers to handle more serious duties. There is also a new program, PACT (Police and Citizens Together) that will have officers assigned to specific neighborhoods, working with citizens and neighborhood watch groups, Forney said.
There are plans in the works to form other programs - Crime Free Housing and Safety by Design - that will encourage apartment complex owners to install better safety features and work with police and tenants to reduce crime and dangerous situations, Turner said.
These can also apply to other residential areas. Residents of Park Avenue, the street where a man coming home for lunch was shot in November by an intruder, have already begun a transformation of the neighborhood by trimming shrubbery and clearing areas where a criminal could hide, he said,
Turner also spoke of the SHIELD program, which is a security plan for local businesses, and the S.T.O.P. program, which helps keep teen drivers safe by posting decals on their cars that let officers know they are part of the program. If a teen driver with a S.T.O.P. decal commits a traffic violation, his or her parents are notified.
"All these programs are no cost," Brunson said. "They don't cost taxpayers a dime."
Turner also spoke of online programs and sites where people can make anonymous tips, register valuables in case of theft, and keep up with area crime.
Several people in the audience had questions and suggestions for officers. Mason Graham suggested using a program similar to S.T.O.P. for other drivers, such as college students, in which parents would be informed of tickets, warnings and other issues.
Dennis Johnson, who said he is a newcomer to the area, suggested condemnation of nuisance properties. Bryan said there have already been cases in the city in which property owners have been warned of possible forfeiture regarding drug activity at their property.
Holmes Ramsey, who owns Statesboro property, including several bar locations near the university campus, said he feels Statesboro police should "stop the sting operations," require bars to have machines to scan ID cards and to hold individuals responsible for their own underage drinking, not bar owners.
"Most all of these people want to abide by the law," he said.
Bryan pointed out that the city's alcohol compliance checks are announced beforehand and are important in battling the underage drinking problem.
"We are definitely above board in our operations," Turner said.
Bryan also said that many underage drinkers use valid Georgia driver's licenses - just not their own. A scanner would only be able to tell if the ID was valid, but not recognize whether the person using it is the legal license holder.
Pearl Brown, the president of the Bulloch County NAACP branch, asked what the Statesboro Police Department is doing to reach the public and generate interest in the programs offered.
The relationship between the community and police "is better than it has ever been," Turner said. "We're very proactive in our efforts to open lines of communication."
Fliers advertising the town hall meeting were distributed throughout the city, including areas of high crime, he said. The meeting was also publicized in an article in the Statesboro Herald.
Brown also asked about efforts to create a more diverse police force that reflects the community's population.
"We have already addressed this issue and have a plan in place," Turner said, adding that he encourages minorities to apply for police officer positions. The city's population is about 60 percent white and 40 percent black, and although the department's staff should mirror this, "it does not."
Significant efforts are made to recruit black candidates for officer positions, he said. "We specifically target and recruit minorities" to join the police force.
Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.