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Statesboro officials aim to mandate cameras, gates for apartment blocks
Tuesday’s ordinance talk follows citizen complaints of repeated near-miss gunfire at Morris Heights
Morris Heights gunfire - car shot
The rear window of the car of a resident of Morris Heights Apartments on Morris Street in Statesboro was shattered by a gunshot during an incident in early May at the complex, where multiple shots were fired. (Special to the Herald)

Statesboro officials are developing a city law to incentivize installing security cameras and gates at apartment complexes and potentially require them at new or renovated complexes. Meanwhile, Morris Heights, an older complex where several gunfire incidents were reported this spring, is expected to install cameras voluntarily, possibly this week.

A draft or further report toward an “Apartment Security Ordinance” is one of seven topics slated for discussion during the 3 p.m. Tuesday, June 20, mayor and council work session. But the ordinance is not yet on the agenda for a first-reading vote during the 5:30 p.m. regular City Council meeting.

The council voted 5-0 during a May 16 work session to direct City Attorney Cain Smith to draft an ordinance regarding camera systems, security gates and security personal for apartment complexes.

During that session, District 2 Councilwoman Paulette Chavers said she had concerns about one apartment complex in her district, Morris Heights, which is off Morris Street and north of Proctor Street on the West Side. Then, in the general public comments time during the June 6 council meeting, Kevin Lewis, a resident of Morris Street area but not of Morris Heights itself, talked about shooting incidents there.

“We seem to have a gang problem in Statesboro, and I want to know what’s in that toolbox that you as City Council have that can fix it,” Lewis said.

He said his aunt had been “almost shot in the back of her head while she was watching TV in her house,” a couple of weeks before, and that a car had been shot through the windshield and that there had been “a couple more shootings.”

“Why is it so hard to control one complex? Where can you create the manpower to put on that one complex until you get control of what’s going on? That’s all I want to know,” he said.

Lewis said his father, aunt and neighbors all wanted him to see what could be done.  He had talked to city officials who told him a solution involving “technology” was in the works, but what he wanted to see was the Statesboro Police Department to have more officers and get better pay and “the city of Statesboro take the lead and make other cities want to follow,” he said.

Lewis said he had seen none of “those shootings” he mentioned reported in the newspaper. The incidents he described were “shots fired” incidents, but not what are generally referred to as shootings in news reports, since nobody was killed or wounded. The newspaper staff had not been immediately aware of details that made these more significant than shots simply being fired into the air.


30 days, 3 incidents

However, Chief of Police Mike Broadhead later confirmed that three incidents involving gunshots occurred at Morris Heights from late April through May. In the second of those incidents, a juvenile boy was arrested, and Broadhead issued a letter of commendation to the officer who made the arrest. In the first and third incidents, an apartment and two cars were reportedly damaged.

In the first incident, April 30, two people exchanged “numerous shots” and police “recovered several spent shelling casings,” Broadhead stated in an email. Bullets shattered an apartment window and struck a car, he confirmed.

Then on May 5, Statesboro police received a report of a juvenile with a handgun, also in the Morris Heights area. “Officers engaged a juvenile matching that description in a foot pursuit, recovered a gun and made an arrest,” Broadhead stated in an email.

In fact, he issued a letter of commendation to Officer Jonathan Treloar on May 12 for his actions during the May 5 incident. According to the letter, it was Treloar who pursued the juvenile, a 15-year-old boy, on foot.

At one point the juvenile suspect “stumbled and fell, and in so doing, a handgun fell out of his hoodie pocket,” the police chief wrote to Officer Treloar.  “The (subject) picked up the handgun and swung it in your direction, causing you to take immediate evasive action. The subject then turned and continued to run, later throwing the pistol down and surrendering to you…

“Your display of professionalism and restraint is to be commended,” Broadhead wrote. “This situation was tense and rapidly evolving, and you maintained your composure throughout the incident.”

The department’s May 5 daily bulletin had described this only as an incident of someone under age 18 being found in possession of a handgun.

In the third incident, May 30, several shots were fired into an unoccupied car, Broadhead noted.

W Mike Broadhead
Statesboro Police Chief Mike Broadhead

Chavers’ concerns

During the June 6 meeting, Councilwoman Chavers told Lewis she agreed with him that something needed to be done, including having more police officers to patrol the neighborhood.

“I’ve been over there several times just to see what is actually taking place, and it really is sad, and I don’t have all the answers,” Chavers said.

“I’m looking for answers to be crafted so that we can get down to the bottom of this, but I concur with him, we do need more officers and I think that’s what we’re trying to do, get more money to hire more officers so that we can patrol that area more heavily so that everyone is safe,” she said.

District 2 Councilwoman Paulette Chavers
District 2 Councilwoman Paulette Chavers

Company cooperates

In a phone interview last week, Broadhead said the company that owns or manages Morris Heights has been cooperating and meanwhile the Police Department has increased its visibility in the neighborhood. Morris Heights is managed by Envolve Communities LLC, based in Montgomery, Alabama.

“We’ve been working with the ownership there. They sent out a security consultant to look into installing cameras, and they’ve agreed to do that,” Broadhead said Friday.  “I think that that is on their schedule starting next week to start installing the cameras. So they’re starting to make some progress down there, and we’ve definitely been much more visible.”

He noted that the last of the confirmed incidents occurred in May. One contributing factor, according to Broadhead, had been “urban renewal” type demolition of some Pine Street properties, which displaced some residents into Morris Heights.

“That’s caused some conflicts. Fortunately, nobody’s been killed over there or anything, but there has been gunfire, mostly just random shooting into the air or shooting into a car,” Broadhead said. “But there have been people shooting at each other, they just haven’t hit each other.”

Police believe that gunfire was exchanged between two apartments in one of the earlier incidents. But officers or detectives attempting to determine who was responsible received little cooperation from residents, he said.

“So that’s under investigation, still,” Broadhead said. “I believe that neighbors know who was doing it. It’s just that they have to live there, and until we can normalize the idea that people have to give us firsthand information, it can be difficult for us to prosecute people for those kinds of offenses.”

The management’s installation of cameras in exterior or commons areas would be a matter of voluntary cooperation, as has been the case with other apartment complexes that install cameras and participate in the Police Department’s Fusus camera network.

More than two years after the core system was installed, the contracted Fusus network, which allows real-time and potential monitoring at the SPD dispatching center, has 43 participating locations, Broadhead said last week. These include apartment complexes, businesses and some churches.

During the May 16 work session, Smith, the city attorney, told the mayor and council members it would be problematic to try to require cameras at existing complexes as long as they make no major changes to their buildings. But an ordinance could require cameras and gates to be installed for new apartment construction or if renovations are done on a large enough scale to require special permitting, he said.


Ordinance models

Major cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago require apartment complexes with 50 or more units to install gates at all entrances and exits. San Francisco requires complexes that size to install security cameras in common areas, while New York requires them also in lobbies and hallways, Smith reported.

City Manager Charles Penny recommended using $80,000 from interest Statesboro received on its share of federal American Rescue Plan Act funding to assist existing apartment complexes with security technology improvements.

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