By Daniel Silliman
When the man opened his glove box, papers spilled out.
His brown Toyota Corolla stalled in the middle of the right lane of Flint River Road, where police had stopped it, and the bald man began to frantically shuffle through the pile of papers.
A Clayton County Police Officer stood next to the car, shining a flash light into the front seat.The man finally found what he was looking for and opened the door to hand the officer his driver's license and proof of insurance.
The officer said, "Thank You," and turned to the next car, at the road-check on the corner of Flint River Road and Kendrick Road, Friday night.
Three patrol cars were parked on each side of the intersection, after 9:30 p.m., funneling travelers to the officers checking for licenses, proof of insurance, license plates, and signs of inebriation.
At the mobile command center, behind St. Philip Benizi Catholic Church, Clayton County Police Capt. Don Colburn pointed to a map. The map shows Flint River Road and South Pointe Parkway, stretching from Tara Boulevard to Ga. Highway 85, and the clusters of streets surrounding the corridor.
"We've got the Special Ops unit doing a sweep from here to here," Colburn said, waving his hand from left to right across the top of the map, "and the SWAT team doing a sweep in the opposite direction down here. Then we have the road check right in the middle."
Across the top of the map read: "Operation Flushing the Flint."
Clayton County Police -- joined by representatives from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Clayton County Juvenile Court and the United States Marshals -- targeted the Flint River Road area Friday night and early Saturday morning in the second operation under an umbrella the police chief is calling Operation 3-Rs.
Chief Jeff Turner said the operation combines directed patrols, serving warrants, curfew enforcement and a road check -- all with the intention of "repelling crime, restoring order and resurrecting the quality of life." The operation targets an area with a consistent record of high crime. It uses an intense police presence for one night, in the hopes of forcing criminals to stop, or move elsewhere, and, at the same time, show law-abiding citizens that police are aware of the area's problems, responding to them, and willing to work with the community.
Turner has said the high-profile actions will only be effective if the citizens in a community decide to join with law enforcement, cooperating and taking on a sense of ownership.
A number of the drivers who were stopped, Friday night, expressed that sentiment, thanking the police for the operation. Others, however, appeared to be defensive, afraid and annoyed.
Sharon Crenshaw, a homeowner in the area and a member of the Clayton County Wide Homeowners' Association, said she understands those feelings. "A lot of people are terrified when they see the police," she said. "Have the police come out and get to know the community, and maybe, then, people will be more willing to speak. Don't just put up road blocks and come out and terrorize us."
Turner said the Flint River Road area was chosen for the operation, because it has had a lot of problems with gang activity, drug dealing, car theft, burglary, and a murder, which was apparently motivated by the theft of a wallet.
"We've just got to put a thumb on it," he said. "The biggest problem we have had in this area is the youth who are gang members. And, you know, you get the gang members and then you get the drugs, the robberies and the violence."
Kim Verma knows what the chief is talking about. A clerk at the BP gas station, on the corner of Kendrick and Flint River roads, she was shot during a robbery a couple of years ago. When it happened, television crews came out to ask her about it. Today, she said, crime is so bad that no TV station would cover a gas station stick-up. From her place behind the gas station counter, she said, she sees and hears about all sorts of crime, and she's pleased with the police response.
"I think it was excellent," Verma said. "I think they need to do more. They need to let people know the police are watching."
There were so many officers around on Friday night, Verma joked, that the clerks could have counted money in the parking lot and still been safe. But, on Monday afternoon, she didn't actually feel any safer. "No," she said. "I don't feel safer, but I'm glad the police are on their toes, trying to do some clean-up jobs."
Crenshaw also pointed to the days after the operation. She asked if a road check, a sweep and a few arrests would really make a change in the community's crime rate.
"You catch people for the night," she said. "But they get out of jail or whatever and they go back to the community. The same problem will be there later."
Hamin D. Shabazz, assistant professor of criminal justice at Clayton State University, said the department's sweeps and road checks are successful tactics that law enforcement is using to respond to crime-ridden neighborhoods and citizens' complaints.
The professor thinks the tactics ought to improve the community's relationship with law enforcement, but he's not sure it will. "People complain that the police aren't doing anything, and then when police do implement tactics to combat the thing that's being complained about, they get complaints on the other hand," Shabazz said. Even if they complain, however, the "majority of law abiding residents" do support crime sweeps and road checks, Shabazz said, because of the harsh reality of crime.
"People in the neighborhood who want to go play in the street, who want to sit on the porch without bullets flying over their heads, they're not complaining. They're praising the police. They're probably asking for more," he said.
Turner has promised more 3-R operations and said the ones the department has done so far have been successful.
Officers wrote 30 traffic tickets, during the operation, impounded six vehicles, and made 39 arrests, on charges ranging from driving without a license and driving without insurance, to automobile theft and possession of cocaine.
When a clerk locked the BP gas station, on the corner of Kendrick and Flint River Road, Friday night, a police van sat in the parking lot, and three people were locked in the back. One man, pulled out of his vehicle on suspicion he'd been driving while drunk, pounded on the inside of the van. He yelled -- "Awwwwaww. Somebody help me out of here. Awwwww." -- and kept pounding.
The BP clerk walked past the man's car, where it was being loaded onto a tow truck, and waived at the police officer guarding the van.