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Chief Scott: “Ready and willing to start the dialogue.”

From Americus Police Chief, Mark Scott

As we closed out 2020, a challenging year by all accounts, there was a bit of good news. As you may be aware, we report our crime statistics to the FBI at the end of every month and as I read the monthly reports in 2020, the total number of reported crimes was consistently lower each month than the number reported in 2019. When we closed out the year and ran the numbers there were 921 Part 1

crimes documented in 2020 as defined by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting System. That number is down 6.2% from the 982 crimes reported in 2019. The last time the number of Part 1 crimes reported in the City of Americus was lower than 921 was in 1987 when we had 895 documented Part 1 crimes.

That’s where the statement published in the media a couple of weeks ago that we hit a 30-year low (actually a 33-year low) comes from. To give a little extra perspective, the highest number of Part 1 crimes reported in the City of Americus was in 2002 when we reported a total of 1,594 serious crimes to the FBI. I hope we never break that record.

Our purpose in publishing these numbers is not to insinuate that there is no crime in Americus. This is obviously not true as crimes are committed here as they are in every other city in the US. Our purpose was to show the community that the work we are doing together as a community is making a difference and we are moving in the right direction. In the last two weeks, the narrative has shifted as can be seen in recent headlines. We typically work two or three homicides a year. Some years there are none. The worst year in recent history was 2016 with six homicides in the city. Unfortunately, so far in 2021 we have already had three. One of these was a robbery that turned into a homicide. The other two were disputes between people who knew each other that escalated to violence. None of these were connected to each other.

Now to the most alarming crime trend we have faced in recent years. The total number of serious crimes has steadily declined, but one category has escalated, Aggravated Assaults. This category encompasses any assault on another person with a deadly weapon as well as assaults related to other felonies and weaponless assaults that do or are intended to cause serious bodily harm. This category includes incidents commonly called drive by shootings. Looking at the data, the number of face to face type assaults has been constant over time, but the number of incidents of persons shooting blindly into houses and cars has escalated dramatically. “Drive bys” are not classified or counted as such by our reporting system. To track them, we must keep a manual count by checking daily reports and identifying those that involve drive by incidents. We started this tracking process in 2019 when it became apparent that these incidents were increasing and have gone back as far as 2015 identifying these type incidents to have a reference point.

Looking at the data, we had three drive by incidents reported in 2016, one in 2017, and six in 2018. The number almost doubled in 2019 to eleven and more than doubled again in 2020 to twenty-eight. This is not just a local trend. A June 6, 2020 article in The Washington Post cited a study of gun violence in US cities that shows a dramatic increase in these types of crimes across the United States1. What is driving this trend here in Americus? There are some common denominators among the suspects we have identified over the past four years here. The suspects in most of these incidents are young men in their late teens to early twenties. The suspects live in or near the neighborhoods where the shootings occur. The shootings are not random but are targeted at specific dwellings. Almost all the suspects we’ve identified have some gang affiliation. The incidents come in series with an initial drive by related to some conflict between individuals followed by three to four retaliatory incidents involving friends of the individuals involved in the original dispute. Several residences have been shot at multiple times.

From the police perspective, these crimes are extremely hard to solve by making arrests. Because the parties involved are typically guilty of shooting at each other, they can’t tell the police who shot at them without implicating themselves in the inevitable retaliatory shootings. We can usually unravel the involved parties through social media posts and information received from anonymous sources, but we rarely have enough actual evidence to charge anyone. The question then is, what can we as a community do to stop this cycle of violence? There is no easy answer. One approach is to arrest and charge the people committing these crimes. To do that we need people in the community who are willing to step up and speak up. We cannot make a criminal case on someone solely through anonymous tips or hearsay. We need witnesses and concrete evidence.

I believe a better approach is to stop the incidents before they happen. We frequently get information after the fact from people saying they are not surprised so and so’s house got shot up. They’ve been beefing with someone for weeks. We need that information before the gunfire, not after. Members of the community play a vital role in stopping this violence. We must also work to change the mindsets of our young people and teach them that there are better ways to resolve conflict than shooting into people’s houses. Two of the major ways we interact with teens is through the DARE and GREAT Programs in the schools, which have unfortunately been lost due to the pandemic and distance learning. In fact, almost all our community interaction has been curtailed for the past twelve months due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, we have got to open a dialogue with our community leaders, churches, and civic organization to address this escalating problem and come up with effective community-based solutions. I am personally ready and willing to start the dialogue.

 

1 Berman, Mark, et al “Major U.S. cities, gripped with crisis, now face spike in deadly shootings, including of children” The Washington Post, June6, 2020, National Section