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Shootings draw action
AW Crackdown2
Hinesville City Manager Billy Edwards, Mayor Jim Thomas and Police Chief George Stagmeier look over maps showing the locations of violent crimes and burglaries committed in the city in March. - photo by Andrea Washington / Coastal Courier
In response to a spike in shootouts and burglaries in Hinesville, city officials plan to get more police on the streets and asking residents to cooperate with law enforcement in solving and preventing crime.
Hinesville Police Department Chief George Stagmeier said there have been "somewhere around eight incidents where there were (multiple) shots fired" in the last few weeks, many of which have taken place in the Pointe South and Summerwind condos area.
The two most recent shootings in the area took place less than a week apart and left vehicles and homes of unsuspecting residents marked with bullets. Thankfully, No one was injured.
Mayor Jim Thomas said both nighttime shootings, coupled with shots fired in the parking lot of the Crossroads Shopping Center last weekend and a spate of recent break-ins, has spawned fear in many citizens.
"We've had older people and ladies afraid to come out of their homes because of the shootings. There's a lady that's 99 years old where they fired those weapons near Folker Road," the mayor said. "We cannot allow and will not allow this kind of stuff to go on in this city. We're just not going to live in a city where we have this kind of junk going on."
Thomas, with Stagmeier and City Manager Billy Edwards at his side, Tuesday unveiled the city's strategy to clamp down on violent crime.
Key in this initiative, Edwards said, is an increased police presence in neighborhoods throughout the city, especially around Brett, Eunice and Folker streets.
"We're going to have an increased presence and we're going to apply increased pressure to those areas and the types of things going on that are causing the problems," he said.
The goal is two-fold: Making those inclined to break the law feel less likely to do so and giving citizens a sense of security with police only moments away, if needed.
With officers being directed not to just patrol from their squad cars, but to get out and talk with residents, the increased presence will also serve to create a more personable relationship between the community and the department, Stagmeier said.
City officials hope through building a tighter bond between residents and police, there will be more citizen participation in preventing and resolving crimes, which Thomas said is the next important element in the city's plan.
"We'd like to ask the public for participation, as much as we can get," the mayor said, "in identifying these people who are causing these problems because they interfere with the lives of all of us."
Edwards said help from residents is important to the plan because those with the most information are often unwilling to talk with police.
Stagmeier said a lot of the hesitancy to cooperate with officers comes from a concern of retaliation.
"There's the fear that if they tell, it gets back to the bad guy and they would be hurt or their property would be damaged," the chief said. "So they don't really want to get involved."
To ease these worries, he said the department is planning to reinstate its silent witness program, as well as reminding people they can call leave anonymous tips any time.
"People can call the police department and speak with our communications officer and, if they want, leave their name out of it, they can," Stagmeier said.
"Even if they give us their name, we'll protect that identity," Thomas added.
But getting residents to provide more tips is not all the three officials are requesting. They also want residents to be on the frontlines of protecting their neighborhoods by joining one of the city's 35 Neighborhood Watch groups or starting a new one.
City Councilman Keith Jenkins also pushed the idea of beefing up Neighborhood Watch during a council meeting Thursday.
"It's going to take more than just the police department to go out there and try to decrease the crime. It's going to take the citizens as well," he said. "And I think people getting out there and helping the police through the neighborhood watch programs can detour crime concentrated in the area."
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