When burglars hit Eddie Berry’s shop on Deans Bridge Road again in July, it was another example of the crime that has plagued that part of Augusta.
The Richmond Hill emergency response area – bordered by Deans Bridge Road on the west, Gordon Highway on the north, Peach Orchard Road on the east and Bobby Jones Expressway on the south – had the highest number of crimes tracked by The Augusta Chronicle since the newspaper began collecting data the past six months for its weekly online crime map.
Richmond Hill residents and businesses had 345 crimes that included assaults, burglary, property damage, robberies and one homicide. The majority of the crimes were assaults, 178, and burglaries, 126.
“I secured my place – put up a camera and alarm,” said Berry, the owner of Berry’s Complete Auto Service, adding that he decided to keep his business there because it’s a good location for a mechanic despite several break-ins since he opened a year ago.
Sheriff’s Cpl. Pat Blanchard’s beat covers part of Richmond Hill, and he’s well aware of the criminal activity in that area. He said he believes the
numerous apartment complexes and dense population are major factors in Richmond Hill’s high crime numbers.
“You should have been with me at 6 a.m. when I came on,” he said one morning last week. He responded to a call about a robbery at the Dollar General on Peach Orchard Road. The owner was at the store at 6 a.m. because he was still dealing with a burglary at the store just four hours earlier, Blanchard said.
As a patrol officer, a major focus of his job is being a deterrent. People using or selling drugs move elsewhere, and people considering breaking into homes or businesses aren’t going to practice any stealing skills in front of a uniformed officer in a marked patrol car.
“Just being there is a lot of help,” Blanchard said.
As the 15-year veteran officer weaved his patrol car through the Richmond Hill residential streets and apartment complexes last week, he explained that a number of the apartment complexes hire off-duty deputies to provide security. At Southgate, for example, two officers keep the complex covered all day and most of the night.
Blanchard said he sees a lot of burglaries and car break-ins. One of the first things he does in the morning is cruise through apartment complexes, using his side lights to look for broken glass – a telltale sign of break-ins.
Blanchard points out one apartment window that was pierced by a bullet. The bullet entered a baby’s room and landed about three feet from the crib, he said. Officers respond to a lot of calls about shootings but by the time they get to the site, the shooters are gone, leaving behind only shell casings, he said. It’s rare to be able to find any witnesses.
As Blanchard patrols the neighborhood, few people give him a second glance. He believes it is because people are used to seeing regular patrols and officers responding to calls. It’s not unusual for residents to address Blanchard by name, he said. Officers often get flagged down by residents with trouble or tips.
Blanchard hates to see good people driven out of the area by crime. He told of a family from New York who hadn’t finished unpacking boxes when someone stole the children’s bikes out of the backyard. They packed back up and left, Blanchard said.
WALTER PARKER BECAME a crime victim at his Deans Bridge Road tint and detail shop near Augusta Tech Drive after less than a year.
Authorities never caught the people who kicked in the door of Xtreme Detail & More on Aug. 28 and stole cash, electronics, about 50 DVDs, 100 CDs and more than $800 worth of new clothing.
Parker had just taken over ownership of the building in February. The previous owner warned him that the building had been targeted before when someone stole the air-conditioning units.
Residents who live in the neighborhood to the rear of the business warned that it isn’t uncommon to see strangers roaming through their yards.
“It’s not safe – not at night,” Parker said of the area.
After the incident in August, Parker added a surveillance system and more lighting and decided to shorten his hours.
Blanchard said he advises every burglary victim to get an alarm system. In 15 years of responding to thousands of break-ins, Blanchard said only a handful were at homes or businesses with alarm systems.
Even with diligent patrols, the problem is that burglars kick in back doors, not those in front, Blanchard said.
SOME RESIDENTS HAVE taken steps to make the community safer.
Tom Jackson lives in the approximately 1 square mile area of the Alleluia Community, a relatively crime-free zone, Blanchard said. Jackson said that when members of the Christian faith community first started moving into the area 30 years ago, robberies and other crimes were common.
The community members took turns at prayer watch that went 24/7, and at midnight one or two residents would drive through the community checking on homes, businesses and the school. Over the years, countless break-ins, a couple of fires and lots of suspicious people have been stopped.
About a year ago, Jackson said, they decided to reach out to residents living nearby to coordinate efforts, and this year they joined the more formal community watch program. The signs went up recently.
Blanchard said the Alleluia residents are good about calling the sheriff’s office to report suspicious people – such as a man recently seen walking down the street carrying a large TV. If more people would make such calls it would help officers make arrests and recover more stolen property. Stopping one burglar can bring at least a respite from crime, he said.
Like Berry and Parker, who don’t want to be chased out by crime, the Alleluia residents and others who have invested in the community are committed to the Richmond Hill area.