Mark Scott: Looking to new year while reflecting on 2018
It’s a brand-new year, and as we think about all that we hope to accomplish in 2019, I believe it is helpful to take a look back at the past 12 months. The year was a year filled with challenges for the police department, but also a year filled with accomplishments.
We started 2018 with only four vacancies on paper, but since eight people were in training, it was hard to see much difference on the streets. During the year we were able to get those officers trained and working. Although we had some attrition due to retirement and other reasons, we continued to hire good candidates. As we launch into the new year, we still have four vacant patrol officer positions to fill, but only three officers are currently in training, allowing us to fill some much-needed positions in other areas of the department.
As 2018 progressed and new recruits became new officers, we were able to transfer three of our veteran patrol officers to fill vacancies in the Criminal Investigation Division. These transfers provided some much-needed depth to our on-call schedule and allowed the detectives to decrease their individual caseloads and increase the amount of time available to spend on their assigned cases.
We were also able to implement a K-9 program with increased staffing availability and a grant from the One Sumter Economic Development Foundation.
One of our major accomplishments as we closed out 2017, was to become a State Certified Agency through the Georgia Law Enforcement Certification Program. We received this certification in October 2017. We then began the process of becoming a nationally accredited agency through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) in January 2018. Accreditation through CALEA is typically a three-year process and we have been hard at work implementing policies and practices designed to meet the 462 different standards. We are currently on track to complete the self-assessment process within the next few months and hope to be able to schedule an onsite assessment with the Commission in early fall, a year ahead of schedule.
Some of the other noteworthy accomplishments in 2018 included training officers in the use of police mountain bikes and getting our bicycles out of storage and back into use. We worked closely with the United States Attorney’s Office to begin implementing the Safe Streets Program which involves prosecuting violent criminals through the Federal Court System. This program also involves an educational component which we implemented this summer as we provided the summer GREAT Program, which we had not been able to staff in previous years. We partnered with federal prosecutors and agents from the FBI, GBI, and GSP to provide the STYLE Program to our local youth. This program allows youth to interact with law enforcement through a series of role play scenarios designed to help them understand different legal principles and the decision-making process that law enforcement officers typically use during street encounters with youth.
We were also able to replace some of the aging vehicles in our patrol fleet with Ford Explorers in 2018, giving officers a more functional and spacious vehicle for patrol operations.
A major milestone for the police department and for the community in 2018, was the arrest of Devontae Watts for the 2014 murder of five-year-old Asata Snipes. This arrest came as a result of a four-year investigation by the department in cooperation with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
As we enter a new year, one of the crime problems we must face includes the nationwide opioid abuse epidemic which is claiming lives through drug overdoses here in Americus and Sumter County. We ended 2018 charging two men with murder for their role in the overdose death of a local woman. We will work closely with the District Attorney in 2019 to prosecute individuals who are profiting by supplying these deadly drugs to our community as we also work with our local mental health agencies to help those battling addiction to get free from these dangerous drugs.
Finally, we will be working closely with our local community leaders to address the rising incidents of violent crime in our community. Violence, particularly gun violence, is increasing across the nation, and Americus is no exception. Although we are continuing to see a downward trend in reported crime and our overall crime numbers continue to be lower than they have in years past, we are seeing an increase in the number of injuries and deaths due to violence among the young men in our community.
There were 11 reported incidents of drive-by shootings in our community in the last 90 days of 2018. We charged seven people in connection to these incidents and the incidents are still under investigation. We have been able to tie nine of these incidents to the same groups of people and are fairly certain that the other two are also related. Fortunately, although a lot of rounds have been fired indiscriminately in these incidents, only two people were actually injured. We seized or recovered 37 guns last year, 16 of those in the last 90 days. This is a community issue, in that the only way to address this type of violent crime is to teach our young people violence is never an acceptable method of resolving conflict. Incidents of individuals shooting into houses, cars and crowds because someone has made them angry increased dramatically last year and unless we address the issue as a community, I fear that they will continue to increase in 2019.
The men and women of the Americus Police Department are committed to our community. We will continue to pursue and arrest individuals who choose to victimize others. More importantly, we will work tirelessly in 2019 to address the issues that negatively impact our community in partnership with others in Americus who truly care about making our city a safe place to live, work and play.
Mark A. Scott is Americus Chief of Police.