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Policing to prevent crime

By Ed Brock

For Maj. Charlie Sewell, the effectiveness of community policing comes down to the story of a man who could have caused trouble.

The man, a resident of Morrow where Sewell is a police officer, had previously expressed a negative opinion for the city's property codes.

"He had said, ?It's my yard and I'll do what I want with it'," Sewell said.

Sewell had met the man at a meeting of a PROUD neighborhood organization, a variation on an old neighborhood watch program that is one of several programs put on by Sewell's Special Services division. One day Sewell had to go the man's house to serve him notice on several violations of the code he had expressly disdained.

The man recognized Sewell from the PROUD meetings and greeted him warmly. After a few minutes of chit-chat Sewell brought up the code violations and the man politely agreed to take care of the problem.

"Whereas if I had not been involved in the neighborhood he probably would have told me what he did before, ?Who are you to tell me what to do'," Sewell said.

The list of programs that fall under the Special Services division is long. Along with PROUD (which means Protected, Respected, Organized, Unified and Desirable) there's the anti-drug education program DARE, TRIAD groups for seniors, citizens police academy, 55 Alive, Clayton Youth Leadership, Read Across America and the newly formed Community Emergency Response Team.

Sewell's department also does security surveys and house checks, a mentor program, presentations by McGruff the Crime Dog and Daren the DARE-a-Lion, and presentations at civic organizations. They coordinate special events like the Tar&Turf 4-Mile Run, a Safe Halloween, Sensational Saturday and the Underprivileged Children's Christmas Party.

They even handle the department's quartermaster duties, training, coordination of secondary employment and collecting crime statistics. And of course, the main purpose of all this is crime prevention.

"What we get out of it is that relationship with the citizen," Sewell said. "When we have this relationship with people they're much quicker to call us."

The division itself is small, just Sewell and new Officer Jovee Mosely, but when it comes down to it the whole department participates. And other law enforcement departments around the county have community policing programs.

Jonesboro and Riverdale have similar programs and Riverdale also participates in the TRIAD groups as well as holding citizens police academies. The Clayton County Sheriff's Department also has community outreach programs.

In Forest Park, the program is called COPs, which simply means Community Oriented Policing. Like Morrow's Special Services there are only a couple of COPs officers in the department, Officers Derell Whitehead and Mayra Ambris, but every member of the department helps out, Capt. Chris Matson said, especially the officers on the streets.

"They are the ones who encounter the people and refer them to the programs (like the newly formed Hispanic Citizens Police Academy," Matson said.

Many of the programs are shared by departments and sometimes they work together, but each one also has unique programs as well. Along with the Hispanic Citizens Police Academy, Forest Park also has Project ID that involves distributing engravers to the citizenry. The engravers can be used to put identifying marks and numbers on a person's property that can be matched against a log kept by the owner in case the property is stolen.

"If it's a senior citizen who needs help the officer will go out and help," Matson said.

The Forest Park department has also initiated a child safety program in which McGruff the Crime Dog stickers are placed on county vehicles that are not police cars.

"If a child sees that sticker on the truck they have certain signals they can give," Matson said. "They have a ?I need help' signal and an ?I'm OK' signal."

Right now he is working on a way to reach Forest Park's Asian community, Matson said.

Often the programs arise to meet a particular need of a specific community, like Morrow's Safe Halloween that is held in the park by Morrow City Hall on Jonesboro Road.

"It's just a place where the parents don't have to worry," Sewell said.

Other programs, like the home security surveys, have a direct impact on crime.

"If we have a person who's been victimized before, we talk to them number one so they won't be victimized again," Sewell said. "Then we take the information from that crime and disseminate it in the area to let them know that something happened."

The community policing programs also help the image of police officers, Sewell said, letting the public in on the powers and the limitations the police have to work with.

"The citizens police academy gives the participants understanding of why we do the things we do," Sewell said.

It's hard to put a job description on what a Special Services or COPs officer does, Sewell said.

"The job description is just a guideline," he said. "There are lots of things that haven't come up yet that Special Services will be involved in."