Children from the Gethsemane Worship Center enjoy the barbecue chicken, hot dogs and potato salad at the Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office sponsored second annual “Unity in the Community BBQ” Saturday.
ALBANY, Ga. — The grilled chicken smell had hundreds of people lining up for free lunch at the Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office barbecue at 11 a.m. Saturday.
Or maybe it was the juicy hot dogs and cool potato salad that enticed them to the second annual “Building Unity in the Community BBQ” at the Eighth Avenue Ballpark.
“We’re here to show kids that there is a better way to live than gangs and crime,” said Chunston Davis, of Omega Psi Phi fraternity at Albany State University. “We can help the kids in the community this way.”
The day’s food, games, music and socialization could go a long way in bringing the community together, said Sanford Hillsman, president of the 100 Black Men of Albany organization.
“We have a saying, ‘What they see is what they will be,’” Hillsman said. “Here they can see the better parts of the community coming together to eat and have fun.”
As Sheriff Kevin Sproul mingled with the crowd, he said that he wanted people, and especially kids, to see law enforcement in a less aggressive manner than they sometimes do.
“We don’t want them to think of us as only the ones who are at their door to handcuff and arrest people,” Sproul said. “We are here to serve them. By reaching out to people like this, I can find more ways to serve. I can find what the community would like us to do.”
One of the ways in which deputies serve is by keeping track of the nearly 300 sex offenders in Dougherty County.
Sheriff’s investigator, Lt. Rebecca Crawford, said her primary responsibility was to register and track sex offenders in the county. While other sheriff’s investigators and the U.S. Marshall’s Office staff help when an offender goes on the run, Crawford must oversee offenders in the county alone.
At the festivities with her toddler son, Latonya Wagstall reacted in surprise when she learned that only one investigator was assigned to register and track sex offenders regularly.
“Only one? That isn’t enough,” Wagstall said. “This is important. I think there should be more.”
The problem is a budgetary one, said sheriff’s Capt. Craig Dodd. Otherwise a solution could probably be found to assign someone to help Crawford.
Booklets such as “How to tell the Good Guys from the Bad Guys” from the National Safety Council were among the information available for parents and children at the barbecue.
The booklet is aimed at children in grades K through three to help them become aware of dangerous situations. The social atmosphere between law enforcement and the community allowed children to realize that police and deputies are there for them as friends.