Griffin Police Chief Mike Yates and Spalding County Sheriff Darrell Dix both spoke Wednesday at the Spalding Collaborative meeting.
Each addressed changes in local crime rates and programs aimed at stopping crime before it begins.
One point that they agreed strongly on was that children are exposed to crime at an early age.
Yates said that children are, “indoctrinated into criminal behavior between 3 and 6 years old. The average citizen doesn’t realize that. They think it starts in high school.”
Dix said it was not unusual to see young children on the playground flashing gang signs or pretending to “smoke a blunt.” He said that at that age, they do not yet understand what they are doing, but they are “emulating exposure” to crime and gang activity they have seen at home.
Each department has implemented a variety of programs targeted at local youth.
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The police department recently installed Buddy Benches at local schools, Anne Street Elementary and Atkinson Elementary, and plan to have three more placed at other local schools soon.
Yates said that the benches provide a place for officers to meet with students who are identified by the school as a child who needs additional support. He said that officers will chat with these students, perhaps have lunch or breakfast with them.
Dix discussed the Junior Deputy Program which has been in place for 50 years. Each year, they take a group of sixth graders to Washington D.C. to tour the nation’s landmarks and monuments.
He said some local students will never leave the county or even the city limits, so this is an opportunity to show them more.
“It gives you hope and warms your heart to see them realize they can be anything they want,” he said.
Another program begun by the police department, Project Halo, is aimed at reducing crime through use of cameras.
Yates said that they are partnering with Georgia Power to install two cameras to be paid for by the city. One will be on Experiment Street and the other at Solomon and Hill streets.
He emphasized that the cameras will not be routinely monitored but the footage will be available for review should an incident be reported in the area.
He also said they hope to create a network of privately-owned cameras, again, not to be constantly monitored, but to be reviewed by law enforcement if a crime takes place.
He said he hopes that crime will be reduced by installing signs in the areas with cameras.
Dix said it is important to him that his department is a part of the community.
“We really love being in the community,” he said.
He said that it is not law enforcement’s job to tell a community where their problems are. It is law enforcement’s job to listen to the community and address what is important to them.
They have created a program with the working title of “firehouse chats” which will begin in April. The sheriff and members of his department plan to meet informally at local area fire departments to discuss issues of concern to residents.
Both said that crime is down in the local area.
They addressed an internet rumor that Griffin and Spalding County are supposedly in the top 10 for crime in Georgia and said that that information is inaccurate and was created by an alarm company as a means to market a product.
Yates said the reality is that there is a nearly 40 percent reduction in violent crime. This includes murder, robbery and motor vehicle theft among others.
Dix, who said he grew up in the area, closed by saying, “We have a lot to be proud of. I see it changing. I see it turning the corner.”