Solving crime problem a community effort, officials say

lfabian@macon.comMay 9, 2014 

Interim Bibb County School Superintendent Steve Smith remembers picking up a newspaper when he was principal at Central High School and seeing four mug shots he recognized.

The former students had been implicated in the death of a convenience store clerk.

“What could we have possibly done with those kids to change their lives?” he wondered.

It’s a question he still struggles with.

A recent Telegraph review of school discipline showed 3,422 students were suspended at least one time in the 2011-12 school year.

“If you’ve got evil in society, you’ve got evil in schools,” Smith said Thursday after attending the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office graduation for fifth-grade students in CHAMPS, or Choosing Healthy Activities and Methods Promoting Safety. “A lot of it is carried over from the neighborhood into the schools.”

Smith believes programs like CHAMPS will foster trust between law enforcement and the students who are being led to make positive choices.

Families need to trust school leadership, too, he said, and keep counselors aware of any struggles or strife a child is going through.

“We’ve got to take this seriously,” Smith said.

Businessman Warren Selby agrees.

As one of the founders and board chairman of Macon Regional Crimestoppers, Selby believes in the power of the community to partner with law enforcement and the media to track wanted criminals.

Now he’s wondering what needs to be done to nip the societal problems that can lead to crime.

He’s been getting calls from concerned residents about recent armed robberies happening in store parking lots in broad daylight and Tuesday’s gun battle near the Freedom Park ball fields.

“It’s gotten out of hand,” Selby said. “They’re talking about moving. I hate to tell you, everybody, you can’t move away from problems.”

Selby prefers tackling the issues head-on and working toward solutions.

He was alarmed by the number of students disciplined at Bibb schools and believes troubled youth grow up to be hardened criminals.

“Parents simply are not there and for a lot of kids they don’t have anyone to tell them wrong or right. It’s sad,” he said. “There’s nothing we can ever do to replace the parents.”

Crimestoppers also offers rewards to students for anonymous tips about illegal activity at school.

The message about reporting weapons has gotten through to the student body, Smith said.

“Every weapon found, we found because someone told us,” Smith said. “That’s the benefit of the relationships we have here.”

Bibb County Sheriff David Davis recognizes the importance of the community joining in the fight.

The type of spontaneous violence such as Tuesday’s shooting at the ball park is virtually impossible to prevent, he said.

“We’re doing as much as we can do,” Davis said. “The community can help us by mentoring a child.”

That’s the idea behind CHAMPS -- striking while the children are young and letting them see deputies are there to help.

“This right here is a long-term way to combat this,” Davis said.

The public’s perception of crime is often skewed by the most sensational cases that make the headlines, he said.

“One thing I’m proud of since consolidation, when we have a violent crime, somebody is arrested,” Davis said. “Every homicide this year was solved within a day.”

Arrests were made within 30 minutes of the ballpark shooting, he said.

Property crimes are on the rise, but many of those thefts could have been prevented, said Lt. Sean DeFoe, public information officer for the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office.

“Criminals are opportunists,” DeFoe said. “They look for that special opportunity when no one else is around because they think they can get away scot-free.” ­­

Store owners and managers need to be especially alert at closing time and should not venture outside alone, he said.

Neighborhood Watch and business safety seminars sponsored by the department help people learn to better protect themselves and their property.

Maintaining safe and secure schools is the utmost priority, Smith said.

“We have to focus on the problem of discipline,” he said. “We’re trying to keep it at bay and catch it before it erupts.”

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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