Politics, police headline Emerge Albany luncheon

ALBANY, Ga. -- The members of Emerge Albany got a lesson in politics and policing during their monthly luncheon Friday at the Hilton Garden Inn.

Richard Thomas, president of the Dougherty County Taxpayer's Association and candidate for County Commission District 6 and Judy Randle, a local business leader and board member of Albany Crimestoppers, each gave brief statements to the group ahead of Dougherty County Police Chief Don Cheek.

Thomas has become a growing political presence since he and his group spearheaded an effort to challenge a revaluation of property tax assessments in 2007. That presence crescendoed last month when Thomas qualified to run against District 6 County Commissioner Jack Stone, who is the longest-serving commissioner at the county board table.

Saying there was a "leadership vacuum" in Albany and Dougherty County, Thomas said that that he favored use of banishment by the court system and the privatization of prisons and jails as a possible mechanism to save tax dollars.

Randle explained the Crimestoppers program and asked the group of young area professionals to get involved by attending the Crimestoppers' meeting on the fourth Thursday of each month at the law enforcement center.

The Crimestoppers program is a national program that encourages community involvement in the crime fighting process by offering a way for people to make anonymous tips to police. The group often issues rewards for tips that lead to arrests or convictions in high-profile cases.

Cheek, who has been a police officer since 1971, explained the role of the Dougherty County Police Department in relation to the two other major police agencies in Albany and Dougherty County and provided statistics about the department from last year.

Started in 1937, the DCP is one of only 12 county police agencies in the state. DCP officers are responsible for patrolling 330 square miles within Dougherty County with 275 square miles serving as their primary service area.

The department is currently operating on a budget that is roughly $2.8 million, only 12 percent of which goes to operations, Cheek said, with the remainder going into personnel.

The department currently has 46 sworn officers, who have managed to keep response times between nine and 14 minutes on calls depending on priority, a feat Cheek says he feels is remarkable given that at times officers could be 20 miles away from a call when dispatched.

In 2009, Cheek said that his officers responded to roughly 25,000 calls for service, completed 2,800 incident reports, made 1,700 arrests, had 14,000 traffic contacts and participated or hosted 201 different community activities.

Cheek said that crime rates continue to be lower in the unincorporated county than national, state and city averages for both property crime and violent crime.

Violent crime saw what Cheek described as a small increase in 2009 over 2008 numbers, but property crimes continued downward from previous years.

Cheek told the group that the department has continued to increase its participation in the GBI's Internet Crimes Against Children program and participates in programs like Special Olympics and the National Night Out.

Emerge Albany is a group of young Albany professionals who meet to promote ideas that will advance Albany and Dougherty County. Friday's luncheon was the group's largest so far, with more than 70 people in attendance.

The group is currently in the middle of a clothing drive to benefit the Anchorage and Graceway. At various locations across Albany, including the Dougherty County Courthouse and the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce, boxes are out as a depository for gently used professional clothing for those who at the two substance abuse recovery facilities who are trying to get back into the workforce, officials said.