Nearly every hand shot up when Bibb County’s sheriff recently asked Ingleside neighbors if they’d ever had a car break-in.
Concerns about crime brought dozens of people to a church on Ridge Avenue last week.
After multiple cars were stolen and homes broken into, five-year Ingleside resident Don Moore was ready to move.
“What in the world is going on in our neighborhood?” Moore asked at the meeting. “This is absolutely ridiculous. It’s awful. You just feel totally violated.”
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Ingleside is just one neighborhood working with the sheriff’s office and each other to combat criminal activity.
With response times often longer than 10 minutes, Moore wants a couple dozen “community street marshals” to respond when neighbors report a crime or suspicious activity.
“If you call me, I’m coming armed,” Moore said. “We’re not going to act crazy. We don’t want to get anybody killed, but the reason we’re doing this is we don’t feel like we can count on the police.”
The Bibb County Sheriff’s Office has 170 fewer deputies than when the department merged with the Macon Police Department in 2014.
Many of those departures were early retirees who were offered incentives as the county was streamlining the new joint government.
Sheriff David Davis said the department remains 100 officers short of current staffing levels.
Since January, 40 deputies have left but only 19 more were hired, he said.
“That’s not going to deter us from doing our jobs and we’re not going to use that as an excuse,” Davis told the neighbors, including some who became emotional while sharing personal crime stories.
The sheriff’s office also met with the community after a rash of Ingleside area crime three years ago. Ingleside neighbors then initiated a quarterly fee for private security to supplement patrols.
Once crime dropped, the money stopped flowing and the private detail ended.
“We can’t afford it,” Ingleside neighbor Susan Cable said.
Cable wants her neighbors to get to know each other better and is working toward formally creating an Ingleside neighborhood association. In the meantime, they’re turning to volunteer marshals to be available when someone needs help.
Moore, whose car was stolen about a year after he moved to the neighborhood, has agreed to head the safety committee.
“What I resent is the fact the I even have to think about having a gun in my hand,” Moore said. “That’s the police’s job and I want them to do their job.”
Davis tried to reassure the crowd that his officers have been making up for staffing shortfalls by using overtime and creative scheduling.
Still, it could take a deputy 30 minutes or longer to respond to a burglary call, he said. Officers prioritize calls such as a shooting or burglary in progress, but a call about a break-in that already occurred might not get immediate attention if there are more pressing matters.
Combating the circle of crime
Davis displayed a chart with 16 mugshots of people arrested this year for property crimes in the area.
He lamented the continual circle of crime.
Often suspects who post bond have not even gone to court before they are arrested again, he said.
Many offenders are wanted for multiple crimes.
“That ain’t their first rodeo,” Davis said.
Davis noted that Georgia’s recent criminal justice reforms have resulted in reduced sentences for property crimes.
He encouraged the residents to lobby the state legislature with their stories, including three homeowners who were recently broken into while people were asleep in their beds.
“The traumatic effect it has on you can make some compelling testimony,” Davis told the meeting that was so full some folks were standing in the back of the room.
Cable said her neighbors are aware that Ingleside is not the only neighborhood affected.
“I think the people are very concerned about the crime going on all over Macon,” she said.
North Haven neighborhood association president Shane Mobley is still troubled by an incident that happened at his house while he was running for the state legislature earlier this year.
His son came home after midnight to find prowlers looking in their house windows.
Mobley tried to follow them in his car, but they got away from the subdivision off Bass Road.
Officers were tied up on a serious call and it took three and a half hours and five 911 calls before someone came to his house, Mobley said.
Another night, people were peering into cars along the street and broke into one of them.
“When I took over, I said enough of this,” Mobley said.
With only 33 houses in his neighborhood across from Kentucky Downs, they couldn’t afford to hire private security or erect a gate.
Instead, the association spent more than $8,000 on surveillance cameras, a license plate reader and signs alerting visitors that they are under surveillance.
“By the time someone sees our cameras, it’s too late,” Mobley said.
The Providence subdivision installed cameras first and Mobley thinks criminals shifted to his neighborhood afterward.
The North Haven cameras went up before Halloween and they haven’t had any incidents since, Mobley said.
Bibb sheriff’s Lt. Raymond Reynolds, who oversees the north Bibb County district, expects a spike in crime leading up to the holidays.
“You have everybody coming to north Macon to do all their shopping,” Reynolds said. “Criminals aren’t as dumb as you think. They are going to go where the money’s at.”
Extra patrols are out to combat the expected holiday surge.
Cameras can be a big help identifying suspects so Reynolds applauds North Haven’s effort to make their community safer.
“We’re not asking the community to do our job for us, but when we work together we can keep our crime rate down,” Reynolds said.
Learning the law
Davis would like to hire 100 new deputies. He told the Ingleside residents to encourage qualified law enforcement candidates to apply for a job with Bibb County.
The county’s top lawman bristles at the thought of armed neighbors trying to take matters into their own hands.
“You scare me just a little bit when you tell folks that they’re going to come armed,” he told the Ingleside crowd at the meeting.
“Don Moore is not crazy,” Moore responded. “Don Moore isn’t going to shoot anybody who doesn’t need to be shot.”
The sheriff encourages everyone to get involved with Neighborhood Watch and Citizens on Patrol if they want to learn about crime prevention techniques.
Davis advises licensed gun owners to take a two-night safety course offered periodically by the department.
He warned gun owners not to use deadly force unless the alleged perpetrator has the ability and opportunity to do harm. The armed person must feel like they are in jeopardy of losing their life or suffering great bodily harm.
“I am certainly not going to tell anyone not to protect themselves. However, do it smartly,” Davis said.
Private citizens responding to a neighborhood incident should inform the 911 operator that they are armed, give a description of the clothing they are wearing and give their name to the dispatcher to prevent law enforcement officers from confusing them with the perpetrator.
“The deputies don’t know the good guys from the bad guys. They know somebody with a gun,” he said.
Davis stressed the importance of heeding an officer’s command to drop the gun.
“You’ve got to comply with the law enforcement.”