Ingleside’s patrols showing benefits for residents

It’s been a little more than a year since residents of Macon’s Ingleside neighborhood started cobbling together donations to hire an off-duty Macon police officer to patrol their streets.

Last year, neighbors raised $25,350 from 166 households, and so far the off-duty patrols have made an impact, said David Lee, an Ingleside Neighborhood Association board member.

In January 2010, Ingleside neighbors were concerned about a rash of car break-ins and burglaries and took action in hopes of preventing the crimes from escalating to more serious offenses.

After hearing about an Atlanta neighborhood’s success of curbing crime using an off-duty officer, Lee posted the idea on an online message board and received dozens of supportive e-mails. Donations soon started rolling in.

The neighbors hired Macon police officer Matt Tout to work off-duty. He started work in the neighborhood Jan. 29, 2010.

Lee said he had no idea the patrols would last a whole year.

“We thought it would fizzle out,” he said.

But in the past year, residents have come to feel safer, Lee said, and forming the neighborhood association has brought neighbors together for a common goal.

Residents are taking a more active interest in keeping their neighborhood safe by calling police when they see something suspicious, said Tout, one of two officers now patrolling the neighborhood off-duty.

Tout said he and the other officer patrol at random hours during the week to serve as a crime deterrent.

Lee said Ingleside’s patrols will remain indefinitely as long as neighbors continue to donate money to support it.

“Hopefully, it’s something that will continue,” he said.

In mid-January, residents of the North Mumford Road neighborhood in northwest Bibb County also hired an off-duty patrolman to patrol their streets, said Chief Deputy David Davis of the sheriff’s office.

The North Mumford neighborhood is typically fairly quiet, Davis said, but residents became concerned after a few burglaries and thefts late last year.

“There was some concern that there might be an uptick,” he said.

Neighbors met and decided to hire off-duty deputies in an effort to prevent additional crime there and deter crime from the nearby Bellevue neighborhood from moving in. Two deputies now patrol the neighborhood at random times, Davis said.

Davis said it’s possible the precedent set by the Ingleside Neighborhood Association hiring officers for off-duty patrols influenced their decision.

It’s unclear how long the patrols will continue. Neighbors will assess their needs again in about a month, he said.

Fighting burglaries

In another effort to reduce residential burglaries, police Capt. Eric Woodford said Macon police launched an operation Feb. 8 in areas of northwest Macon.

The number of residential burglaries reported citywide in 2010 increased 18 percent from 2009, according to police crime statistics.

Police officers are making a point to be visible by driving through residential neighborhoods when they’re not responding to emergency calls, and members of the department’s Strike unit -- officers who focus on areas where specific problems have been identified -- also are patrolling the area, Woodford said.

Officers are conducting driver’s license checks and stopping people they see in residential neighborhoods who “don’t match the neighborhood,” he said.

There’s no set date for when the operation will end. Officers’ efforts will be evaluated periodically and modified as needed, Woodford said.

While every neighborhood may not be able to hire an off-duty police officer to patrol its streets, it helps both the neighborhood and police when residents are “good, nosy neighbors,” Woodford said.

Neighbors who see crimes in progress -- for example, cars and houses being broken into -- are asked to call 911. In situations when neighbors see something suspicious but when a suspect isn’t actively committing a crime, people are asked to call Macon police at 751-7500.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.