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Sheriff’s Unity BBQ draws hundreds

Romello Dunbar, 5, receives a helping of beans from Cpl. Cathie Wilson with the Dougherty County Sheriff’s Department. Sheriff’s volunteers served an expected 600 - 800 East residents Saturday at their annual Building Unity in the Community BBQ. The purpose of the get-together was to put a “human face” on law enforcement and to answer questions of nearby residents. (Staff photo: Jim West)

Romello Dunbar, 5, receives a helping of beans from Cpl. Cathie Wilson with the Dougherty County Sheriff’s Department. Sheriff’s volunteers served an expected 600 - 800 East residents Saturday at their annual Building Unity in the Community BBQ. The purpose of the get-together was to put a “human face” on law enforcement and to answer questions of nearby residents. (Staff photo: Jim West)

ALBANY — Saturday was a great day for a barbecue. In addition to the great food at C.W. Heath Park on North Jordan Street in Albany, participants may have found some answers to some basic crime issues.

The fourth annual Building Unity in the Community BBQ, hosted by Dougherty County Sheriff Kevin Sproul and Sheriff’s Office volunteers is presented in a different community each year to create an environment where citizens and law enforcement personnel can get to know each other and to provide some answers to growing concerns. In the final countdown before unveiling the barbecued chicken, hot dogs, hamburgers and various side dishes, Sproul addressed the crowd.

“When I was growing up in Albany, I could walk or ride my bike on the streets of Albany without the fear of being assaulted or kidnapped,” Sproul said. “Today it’s very hard for us to do that. We have to bar the windows on our houses because we’re scared of a perpetrator coming in and attacking us and taking something from our family or harming us.”

Sproul said it was his goal to work with other city and county law enforcement agencies to bring a sense of safety to the community.

Lt. Terron Hayes with the Sheriff’s Crime Prevention & Intervention Unit and coordinator of the event, said the Jordan Street/Maple street community was selected for the barbecue this year to offer residents a chance to voice concerns on troublesome issues and suggest needed solutions.

“They’re having some real strong juvenile issues, here,” Hayes said, “with unruly kids, and a lot of thefts and burglaries — things that need immediate attention to eradicate some of the problems.”

Hayes said the current economic downturn has added to the troubles of communities everywhere.

“Some areas are hit harder than others,” Hayes said, “but we’re all trying to pool resources to help citizens understand we’re here to help with whatever will make their lives better. Some in the community mistrust law enforcement and see police as being unapproachable. They think the gun and badge makes us above the law. It doesn’t.”

Sheriff Sproul agreed: “We want to show those people who feel intimidated that ‘hey, we have the operations director here, we have the jail director and the chief deputy.’ We have all these individuals who they may see all the time but could never reach out and talk to. We want to show them that we care.”

Sproul said last year’s barbecue, near Putney, served more than 600 people, with as many as 800 expected for Saturday’s event.