OEDEL: Friday night detail

May 25, 2014 

After writing about our high local crime rate and attempts to address it, I had the chance May 16 to tag along on a coordinated Friday night detail of the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office, our consolidated police force in Macon-Bibb. Also participating were officers from the state’s probation department.

A force of about 50 officers and 25 vehicles was on hand. Not only was the scale impressive, but the individual officers also were routinely professional, careful and fair.

The evening began with a traffic checkpoint in Bloomfield near Village Green, a zone of safety concerns in the southernmost crook between Interstate 75 and Interstate 475. Neighborhood residents say gunshots commonly are heard there. Many welcomed the police presence, though some also chuckled that people were evading the checkpoint.

If so, the checkpoint still revealed evidence of routine local life. Mostly seen were people minding their own business, driving cars with bumper stickers like, “Stop the Killing” and “Honey, come home. The kids and I miss you.”

Some people were detained with small amounts of drugs, outstanding warrants or impairment issues.

One man driving home without a driver’s license had recently been released from prison, where he’d been incarcerated for a drug crime under Gov. Nathan Deal’s re-entry program. The probationer has a new job, but a crack pipe was found in his borrowed car. The probationer was arrested, and the car was impounded. A probation officer on hand planned to see if she couldn’t help the probationer find better pathways without losing his job.

A plumber going to a job in the neighborhood seemed unsteady. He admitted to having hydrocodone without a prescription in the work truck and was arrested for impaired driving. Meanwhile, a couple of young men in their early 20s had a small amount of marijuana and two loaded guns. They were cited for marijuana possession, then released.

The detail shifted next to sites near Payne City, where more checkpoints were set up. One quickly turned up someone with a half-pound of marijuana and a warrant connected with prior charges of cocaine dealing. He was arrested.

Nearby, another car was stopped with six teens in it, two guns and about 16 bags of marijuana. One teen wore a T-shirt memorializing another teen, proclaiming, “The Good Die Young -- It’s the Truth.” Another teen admitted possessing the marijuana. A third admitted owning one gun. A 13-year-old was charged with possessing the other gun.

The youngster’s half-brother, an older teenager, was arrested, too. Asked about his life, the older brother said he’d been kicked out of school for fighting and had no job, but he had gotten disability benefits on his own account (“mental”) and had his own apartment. From appearances, he seemed very smart, not even slightly disabled.

Another half-brother of the two half-brothers arrested that night died from a shooting last October.

The mother of one of the teens, a nurse who owned the car, came to the scene, slightly inebriated and exclaiming, “I’m tired of it. They got to be held accountable. ... I’m not upset about what the children did. I’m upset about the police” impounding her car despite her being there, and saying that her son had anything to do with the guns. It was her son who admitted possessing the marijuana.

Several onlookers and officers confirmed the teens in that car were emblematic of an emerging phenomenon -- young people, not in formal gangs, but feisty, uncontrollable, with a sense of fatalism, attitude and entitlement. And with guns to convince any disagreeable doubters.

The evening ended with a roundup and check of older adults in Unionville’s “Field” near Moseley Avenue and Cedar Avenue, which has a popular unlicensed “shot house” for alcohol sales, complete with an open area and pool table. The proprietor was arrested. About 30 patrons were searched. A few outstanding warrants resulted in arrests, but otherwise the operation uncovered neither guns nor drugs on anyone. Some complained that African-American adults drinking quietly on private property were unnecessarily harassed.

An interesting evening. Thanks to Sheriff David Davis for letting me shadow the detail.

David Oedel teaches at Mercer University law school.

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