Lazaro Aleman, ECB Publishing, Inc.
Citizens and city officials had a go last week at coming up with ideas for how to improve local law-enforcement efforts and establish better communications between the police and citizenry.
The workshop was prompted by the comments of Stephen Webster, a city resident who addressed the Monticello City Council on Feb. 6 about what he called “a crime wave”, referring to the rash of burglaries, break-ins and armed robbery in and around town in recent months.
Webster began the workshop discussion on Tuesday evening, Feb. 20, with a reiteration of his earlier suggestions for improving the police department, plus offering some new ones. But basically it came down to pressing for more and better communications and information sharing between the police department and citizens.
“We need better communications,” Webster said. “We need to get on the same page and recognize who the common enemy is; it's the criminals.”
Webster said he had reached out to the Chamber of Commerce to do a workshop on how businesses could better protect themselves and the chamber had expressed a willingness to do it in conjunction with the chief.
“The chamber working with the police chief is a huge step,” Webster said.
He talked of establishing directory information trees, reinvigorating patrol checks of businesses, improving the police department's website to include more timely information, releasing weekly crime reports and establishing better procedures for stolen property recovery.
“Melanie had to go herself to Georgia to get back some of her stuff,” Webster said, referring to Melanie Mays, whose two shops were broken into during the recent rash of burglaries. “There's got to be a better way to get stuff back.”
Mays in her turn expressed frustration that she had had to drive to Albany, GA, to retrieve some of her stolen property. She also had been told by the police department that all her items had been recovered and that wasn't true, she said. Her iPad was still missing, as were some of the other instruments that had been stolen, she said.
“The guy's in prison, why can't we talk to him and ask where did you put the stuff?” Mays asked.
But what really bothered her, she said, was the lack of information from the police department during the rash of crimes.
There had been break-ins at several other places around town and no one had known about it, she said. In fact, until she had posted about her own shop burglaries in her FaceBook page, she hadn't known that nearby businesses had also been burglarized, she said.
“The problem is that the information wasn't getting out,” she said. “That's what really bothered me. What I'm asking is, if there is a crime spree, can't the officers be more forthcoming. FaceBook seems to work pretty well. Maybe we should use Facebook to warn people.”
Franklin Brooks, owner of the North Side Laundromat, said his business also had been broken into last year and even though he had provided the police with photos of the culprit from the business's camera system, nothing had come of it.
“I must say I was disappointed, cause I was to the police station a number of times and there was even a suspect and I've heard no more,” Brooks said. “I had more than $2,000 worth of damage and I haven't seen any results. I was in law enforcement. I don't expect you to get all the criminals, but we can do a better job.”
Merry Anne Frisby, wife of former Police Chief David Frisby, defended the police department. She too had been victimized, Frisby said, but she also recognized the good work the police department did, such as when officers helped her find her missing three-year-old granddaughter.
Frisby said her bias might be showing, but she believed that Monticello had a fine police department.
“I don't want the distant, militarized police accused of rough tactics,” Frisby said. “I want the peace officer. I think there is a danger there and you have to be careful they don't become jackboots.”
For the second times in as many weeks, Chief Fred Mosley addressed the issue at length. Mosley said that if his police department had offended anyone, he apologized, but he and his people worked hard to do a good job.
He said that nights when his one on-duty officer had to transport a Baker Act individual to Tallahassee, he himself came out and patrolled in the interim to keep the city covered until the officer returned. Many times, he said, he was out at 3 a.m. and returned home only long enough to prepare to go back out for his regular day.
He told Mays her iPad was in evidence and the case was still being worked.
He urged businesses to install burglar alarms as a security measure, as it would help his department.
“Once the alarm goes off, we can pop,” Mosley said. “We drop everything else and go there.”
As far as information sharing, he did what he could, the chief said.
“But I don't want to put too much information out there,” he said.
The department, he said, currently conducted business checks nightly. And even if an establishment didn't find on a note on its door, it didn't mean that the place hadn't been checked, he said.
“I'm not only your chief, I'm your patrol officer and I'm your investigator when there are horrific crimes,” Mosley said.
People needed to remember was what had brought them to Monticello in the first place and that it was that small town ambiance and flavor that he was trying to maintain, he said. Crimes were going to occur, the chief said, but that was part of living. Alarms would help the situation, he said. And if anyone had a problem, know that his door was always open, he said.
“If you have a problem come talk to me,” Mosley said. “That's why I'm there. And if you see something that doesn't look right, call it in.”
In the end, the chief promised to share more information, especially if a crime spree was evident. He said he would give an alert specific to the area that was seemingly being targeted. City Clerk Emily Anderson said she also would try to keep the city webpage updated, despite time and resource constraints. And Gretchen Avera volunteered to send out e-mail blast alerts to downtown businesses and others if criminal activity was evident or something else was amiss.
And that was pretty much how things were left.