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Outlook 2013: Police officials use more technology in fight against crime

Officers from the Albany Police Department work a shooting at an Albany mobile home park on Jan. 14, 2013. APD officials plan to use more technology to help them get the jump on criminals. (Outlook 2013)

Officers from the Albany Police Department work a shooting at an Albany mobile home park on Jan. 14, 2013. APD officials plan to use more technology to help them get the jump on criminals. (Outlook 2013)

ALBANY, Ga. — The reality is that crime won’t stop, but the fight against it will be engaged with feet on the street and high-tech devices, said law enforcement representatives.

“Our license plate recognition equipment has been very successful,” said Albany Police Department Chief John Proctor. “We are looking at more technology that we can use that I am not at liberty to discuss. Where we can use technology, we plan to.”

Last year four trunk-mounted tag readers on patrol cars began taking note of license plates on vehicles. After scanning the plate a computer link can determine the plate’s owner and if there are any violations or suspensions connected to the plate.

As an example, log sheets for license plate recognition stops from July 14 through November lists 1,166 stops. From those stops, 300 drivers had suspended registration, 130 did not have insurance, 27 drivers had reckless driving charges, five fugitives were caught and two stolen cars were recovered among other actions.

“What it doesn’t show is the number of cars towed off the streets as illegal. That is important for safety,” said Phyllis Banks, Albany police spokeswoman. “The system has been a good tool that has more than paid for itself.”

Proctor said he continues to hire more officers, but finding the quality of officer he is looking for is tough. Using his experienced officers, Proctor plans to form a Crime Prevention Unit.

The unit will be specifically trained to explain to residents how to prevent crimes. The unit members would conduct surveys of homes and advise on the best ways to secure doors and windows for homes and businesses.

An emphasis on neighborhood watch organizations is planned. Proctor said the police cannot run the organization for the residents, but they can offer instructions on forming and utilizing the group.

Many neighborhood watch organizations are working in various city areas successfully. Others need revitalization. Proctor and his officers are there to help, he said.

“They elect officers, set meeting schedules and set the agendas,” Proctor said. “They keep us abreast of their needs and issues and we help the watch groups.”

In other plans, Proctor said he is looking for a strong relationship with other organizations that work with juveniles such as the Dougherty County School System, the county Division of Family and Children’s Services and churches.

“A lot of the core issues juveniles face are bullying, peer pressure, absent parents,” Proctor said, “not necessarily police matters, but should be addressed.”

Albany-Dougherty Drug Unit

Juvenile drinking and other illegal activities raised problems for the liquor licenses of five Albany bars this year. One bar, Big Daddy’s Lounge, lost its license.

The Albany-Dougherty Drug Unit’s Maj. Bill Berry said his unit plans to pay strict attention to the activities in and around the bars in the area and those that kept their licenses in Albany.

“We intend to be proactive in monitoring alcohol sales and use,” Berry said. “We have a lot of responsibilities to investigate illegal drugs, alcohol, vice, escort services, gambling, corruption.”

Berry, along with every other law enforcement leader interviewed, said that his unit depends on resident complaints and tips to do a good job.

Not wanting to call future operations stings, Berry said that special operations are planned to fight the war against drugs. The drug unit also plans to act in cooperation with other law enforcement agencies.

On Berry’s wish list is the type of license scanner that the APD uses, more training for agents and more and better equipment for field testing drugs and suspects.

And although Coco, the K-9 agent attached to the drug unit, is great, Berry said another dog would give Coco a break and cut staffing time for handlers.

Like other agency leaders, Berry said he is understaffed. Given the dangerous nature of the job he would like more agents for safety during a raid.

“Business is good and there is security in the drug enforcement occupation, Berry said.”Unfortunately.”

DOUGHERTY COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE

When it comes to challenges faced by law enforcement in Dougherty County and in general, Dougherty County Sheriff Kevin Sproul is adamant.

“Two of the biggest problems that I believe we face today in public safety are juvenile crime and recidivism,” Sproul said. “Addressing these major problems can be exhausting because of the complexity of the varying issues within each of these areas.”

Whether complex and exhausting or not, Sproul said his deputies target the causes of juvenile crime and recidivism.

Methods such as CHAMPS, a character education and crime prevention program, interventions, counseling and scared straight-style tours of the Dougherty County Jail are tools his office uses, Sproul said.

A GED program, mental health issue programs for inmates and an anger management program for female inmates are utilized. Sproul said an anger management program for male inmates is also planned.

Other programs such as Right Way Wrong Way are planned to assist individuals in the criminal justice system reenter society and block recidivism.

Sproul added, “I believe we must look at every way possible to make Dougherty County a safer place to live and raise our families.”

With an eye to saving the taxpayer money at the jail, Sproul has new roof construction with solar panels planned to provide electricity. Vegetable gardens are also planned to help supplement the food at the jail.

DOUGHERTY COUNTY POLICE DEPARTMENT

Although the Dougherty County Police Department lost Chief Don Cheek to retirement because of health issues, interim Chief Cynthia “Jackie” Battle said she isn’t merely baby-sitting the position.

“I’m keeping up the quality of service we here in the DCPD swore to give to Dougherty County,” Battle said. “I want this department to run smooth whether I get the (permanent) chief assignment or not.”

The DCPD expects to order the six cars already approved to be added to the fleet. The SPLOST money has already been approved by the Dougherty County Board of Commissioners.

New computers are planned along with new programs, especially an evidence program to add the evidence to the data base. License tag readers like the ones in use by Albany Police Department officers would also be a welcome addition to the DCPD arsenal of crime-fighting tools.

Staffing at the DCPD has six slots to be filled. Three have been hired with two at the academy already. One of the slots is a clerical position and the other five are sworn officers.

Battle would like to add more patrols in the county to fight crime. She would also like to be able to provide more training for her officers and put that training into practice.

“Like the city police do, I would like to encourage people to keep a look out in their neighborhoods,” Battle said. “They should call us if they see something suspicious.”