Ingleside neighbors say they feel safer with off-duty patrol

Two months after neighbors in the Ingleside Avenue area hired an off-duty Macon police officer to patrol their streets, crime has slowed and residents feel safer.

Residents joined together after a rash of car break-ins in January and raised more than $6,000 to pay the off-duty officer, said Adam Griffin, a member of the Ingleside Neighborhood Association. The group has gathered more than 110 paying members.

“We were literally hearing about something about every third day,” Griffin said of neighborhood crime at the start of the year. Although the crimes weren’t violent, neighbors were concerned that car break-ins and burglaries could escalate to more serious offenses.

The combination of an increased police presence and the off-duty officer’s patrols have helped calm neighbors’ fears about crime, he said.

“I think there is a growing sense that people are feeling safer.”

Macon police officer Matt Tout, the officer whom neighbors hired, said that so far he hasn’t seen “anything major,” such as a suspicious person lurking in a backyard, but he believes his presence is a deterrent for criminals.

He doesn’t keep a set schedule, and he varies the days and times of his patrols.

Neighbors like having a liaison with the police department — a person they know and feel comfortable coming to with questions, Tout said.

The neighbors have provided Tout with a cell phone so that they can call anytime they have a concern or question when they don’t call 911.

Tout started patrolling the neighborhood Jan. 29, about the same time police assigned additional officers from the third precinct, property investigators and officers from the STRIKE unit, which targets particular problem areas of town, to perform extra patrols in the area.

Capt. Mike Schlageter said it’s impossible to measure the impact of Tout’s presence in the neighborhood.

“There’s been an effort by a lot of people,” he said. “Together, everybody has made an impact.”

Neighbors help by calling in suspicious activity, he said.

Chief Mike Burns said STRIKE team officers were assigned to patrol the area without having to respond to emergency calls. The officers have walked door to door to talk with residents about their concerns.

In about six weeks, the officers issued 271 warnings, made 98 resident contacts, towed five vehicles and seized several bags of marijuana. Seven people were arrested on charges ranging from outstanding warrants to DUI, according to police.

While specific crime statistics aren’t available to reflect crime in the neighborhood, Schlageter said the severity of the crimes and the number of crimes reported in recent weeks have dropped.

Another benefit: In his rides through the neighborhood, Tout’s patrols have helped encourage motorists to better obey traffic laws, he said.

When drivers see Tout’s marked police car, they slow down and are more likely to stop completely at the stop sign at the intersection of Ridge and Ingleside avenues, for example.

Although Tout is being paid to patrol the Ingleside neighborhood, he also responds to emergencies nearby during the hours he’s working off-duty.

David Lee, a resident of the Ingleside neighborhood who first proposed hiring a police officer, said he’s been pleased with how the program has developed.

While he hoped the amount of crime in the area would go down, Lee said he didn’t expect it to disappear.

In reviewing police records, Lee hasn’t seen an incident within the patrolled area since Jan. 22.

“I couldn’t be any happier with the progress and results,” he said.

Information from The Telegraph’s archives was used in this report.

To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.