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Sheriff Ronnie Strength

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Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength  Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength

Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength said the next step toward curbing crime in Augusta is already being taken.

His department is examining how to prioritize crimes to focus on serious offenses. That could mean you might not see a deputy at your door to take a report about barking dogs, identity theft or harassing phone calls, the sheriff said. It will allow his department to put more deputies in high crime areas. The sheriff said no plans have been finalized but he expected to make the changes by the end of January.

If he had his way, Strength said, he would have more money for more deputies and much stronger community involvement and support, which investigators say can be the difference between solved and unsolved cases.

Strength said he would be meeting this week with Clint Bryant, the athletic director for Augusta State University and a local crime activist.

"Clint is going to come down here (this) week and I'm going to listen to anything he has to say," he said.

Asked about a recent report by Bryant's daughter, Kristen, a Wake Forest University student, that came to the conclusion that crime is up in Augusta, Strength said he had not read it and could not speak to the accuracy of its conclusions.

The report, cited by Bryant when he asked Augusta Commission members to form a crime task force, uses FBI crime data and population numbers to compare Augusta, Georgia and the U.S. It concludes that crime has risen in Richmond County over the past decade even though per capita spending on law enforcement has increased.

"Everybody seems to be an expert, but there are no answers to these kinds of things," the sheriff said. "Crime will always be here. What we do is work like hell, you know, to keep it down as much as possible."

District Attorney Ashley Wright

For crime to decrease in Richmond County, District Attorney Ashley Wright believes everyone living there must refuse to accept and excuse bad behavior -- no matter the excuse.

"It would be great to have more officers," Wright said. "It would be great to have more attorneys and investigators. But it would be better to have more people adhering to the concepts of personal responsibility."

In an e-mail to The Augusta Chronicle , Wright said there are several immediate steps that could be taken:

- Children need to finish their education. Wright said the average Georgia Department of Corrections inmate reads at an eighth-grade level and performs math at a seventh-grade level -- meaning they often don't have the skills to care for themselves, let alone a family.

"If I had a wish list, it would include a military-style high school with a strict code of conduct to be enforced on campus and off," she said.

- Parents need to be more strict and nosy. They need to know what their kids are doing and apply consistent, appropriate discipline, Wright said. They need to provide an environment where bad behavior has consequences and not wait for the police, schools or courts to be the disciplinarians.

- People should stop glorifying criminal lifestyles.

"When the criminal becomes the hero, the focus is on the wrong person," she said. "If the drug dealer is your friend, he's still selling poison to someone else's child."

- Minors should have curfews to keep them off the streets at the most dangerous times of the day.

Wright said she was excited by Clint Bryant's attempt to "fire up and organize the community to fight back." She pointed to the work of area neighborhood associations that have worked together to curb crime near their homes.

"None of this is new and none of it is revolutionary," she said of her positions. "But it seems to the norm for fewer people each year."

Judge Carlisle Overstreet

Judge Carlisle Overstreet wants children to get the attention they need at home when they're young, not in his courtroom years later.

Overstreet has served on the bench in the Augusta Judicial Circuit for the past 19 years and was the victim of a burglary last summer in which he fatally shot an intruder.

He said two things should be done. The first is easy: Increase funding for law enforcement so more deputies are on the streets. The second isn't quite as simple.

"I think you have to make parents more responsible for their children," he said.

Overstreet, who has two grown sons, said he's not sure how that could be enforced but that the lack of parental involvement, along with drugs, is one of the main causes of crime in the community.

"There is no silver bullet for that either, except attention," he said. "You just have to keep up with them."

He also pointed to programs such as the Augusta Judicial Circuit's Drug Court, which sends nonviolent offenders addicted to drugs to treatment rather than jail.

Overstreet praised the work of Clint Bryant and supports the idea of an Augusta crime task force -- "because what you're going to do is -- in some shape or form -- bring attention to people who need some guidance before they get in jail or before they get to court."

District 6 Commissioner Joe Jackson

The sheriff's office has a firm grip on Augusta crime, and establishing a task force could place the public at risk, said District 6 Commissioner Joe Jackson, who heads the city's public safety committee.

Instead, Jackson suggested residents arm themselves, avoid dangerous situations and pay close attention to what goes on in their neighborhoods.

"What I don't want is a group of citizens that gets so mind-boggled that they try to meddle with the sheriff's business," he said. "The sheriff is very informed as far as what goes on in this county."

Crime is going to happen, even with a deputy "on every corner," Jackson said, so residents must use common sense.

"You don't go buy a stereo off of Craigslist at 4 o'clock in the morning," he said.

Augusta State University Athletic Director Clint Bryant

Much has been said about the crime problems plaguing Augusta, and Clint Bryant, the Athletic Director for Augusta State University, wants to talk some more.

In appeals to the local government, the sheriff and other officials, Bryant has made it clear that he believes the first step the area needs to take is to form a local task force to brainstorm solutions. Bryant acknowledged that he is no specialist in the area, just a concerned citizen who would like to push city leaders into making the fight against crime a priority. If that means the Richmond County Sheriff's Office needs a massive budget increase, so be it. If we need tighter restrictions on gun sales, do that too, he said.

Bryant doesn't have the answers, but he wants Mayor Deke Copenhaver, Sheriff Ronnie Strength and city commissioners to start working to find them.

"Once you take the first step, then I think other things will develop," he said.

Bryant suspects that drugs are the root cause of much of the violence -- something "we've never really dealt with in our country."

He thinks weapons are too easily obtained by those criminals and young people. He argues that stricter gun laws should be adopted locally and statewide to keep firearms away from them.

"It's all connected but who's going to pick up the mantle?" he said. "Who is going to lead?"

The Rev. Larry Fryer

The Rev. Larry Fryer wants to stop crime before it happens. Teenage mothers, young gang members and irresponsible parents should be treated with school and church programs that target their situation, says Fryer, the minister at Stone Chapel LME Church in Thomson and a transitional specialist for the Richmond County Board of Education.

"I think one of the most important things to change this criminal activity is we must begin now at those pre-K, kindergarten ages, before these children start forming their minds," Fryer said.

He points to his program, Unique Blend of Young Men, which was recently listed as a "model program" in the National Dropout Prevention Center's online database. It gives at-risk young men a combination of incentives and adult involvement to promote positive attitudes and social activities.

Fryer said local churches need to stand up to violence.

His plan is "where we get people like the church and people in the school system -- and of course parents -- to begin formulating some programs to start with these little ones."

Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver

Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver has voiced support for Augusta State Athletic Director Clint Bryant's proposal to create a crime task force. Copenhaver has started a grant fund for neighborhood watch organizations with $1,000 of his own money.

A next step, he said, is for the task force to look to other communities for examples of "best practices" that might be implemented in Augusta.

"I would hope that the task force would take a look at what other cities are doing better," he said.

The mayor's role, Copenhaver said, is as a resource with access to good ideas, from the U.S. Council of Mayors, Georgia Municipal Association or beyond.

"We are not alone in trying to come up with innovative ways to combat crime," he said. "It's not just an Augusta issue; it's a national issue."

Copenhaver said he'd be willing to serve on Bryant's task force, a group to assist but never usurp the sheriff's powers.

"Clint Bryant stated it so well," he said. "The sheriff supports these efforts, and they are not to take the place of law enforcement."

Neighborhoods can help themselves by organizing associations to compete for grant funds, which Copenhaver said could be used to purchase an emergency telephone alert service and eventually hire their own off-duty deputies to protect their neighborhoods.

Commissioner J.R. Hatney

Super District 9 Commissioner J.R. Hatney called the task force "a waste of time," saying the only next step is to place law enforcement into the hands of a separate police department that answers to Augusta's mayor and commission.

"Most of your neighborhoods where you've got all that crime, they don't have any policing whatsoever," he said. "Police need to have a presence in communities."

Hatney said he'd discussed the idea with Sheriff Ronnie Strength, and it wasn't personal.

"It's a principle -- Augusta's here bragging about being the second-largest city in Georgia, and it doesn't have any police department."

The effectiveness of Augusta-Richmond's single-agency law enforcement, established during consolidation, "is getting worse, and it's not going to get any better until we have the sense to reorganize our public safety."

Complicating his proposal -- which would take eight commission votes -- is planned construction of a new sheriff's administration building.

Hatney said finding eight votes would take time.

"It's not that the folks don't know this is going on -- they know it's going on and they know what it needs to fix it," he said. "Sometimes it takes courage to go beyond relationships to do what needs to be done."

Phil Wahl

Crime increasing during an economic downturn is a problem many communities are facing, said Phil Wahl, the immediate past chairman of the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce.

He said he believes information and education are keys to solving the problem. For example, people should remember to lock their doors and park in lighted places, he said.

"If you see something is going on, give law enforcement a call," he said.

He said he applauds ideas such as a crime task force and increased neighborhood watches.

Chris Cunningham, WifeSaver

Chris Cunningham recently closed one of his WifeSaver restaurants, in part because of a recent robbery, he said.

"The task force is a good place to start, but talking about it is one thing. We've got to do something about it," he said of crime.

"I think they need to increase the budget for the sheriff's department. That's the main thing. You can't ask the sheriff to increase patrols and increase his presence in areas but then cut his budget. Obviously, the best thing to do is to have more policemen and more of a presence in the areas where there's a problem."

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omnomnom 01/16/11 - 04:52 am
"which Copenhaver said could

"which Copenhaver said could be used to purchase an emergency telephone alert service and eventually hire their own off-duty deputies to protect their neighborhoods." yay the mayor tells the po folks to kiss off. at least a few others in power realize increased enforcement in the neighborhoods that need it would do the most good :)

Asitisinaug 01/16/11 - 07:34 am
Sheriff: I am being forced

Sheriff: I am being forced to cut services to citizens and no longer have deputies respond in person to certain non-violent crimes. Given the fact he is 38 deputies short compared to past years, had his budget cut by $750,000.00 this year compared to last year and is having every employee issued 5 furlough days which will cut out over 20,000 man hours from this year compared to last year his only other option is to sue the commission (and he would win the way state law is written) for proper funding of Public Safety.

District Attorney believes in people taking more personal responsibility and acoutibility for their own actions and the actions of their children. I agree 100%. However, we live in an entitlement society and a large majority of RC residents are non-taxpaying members of society who live off of government entitlements which absolutely does not teach personal responsibility or acountibility. She also agrees it would be great to have the necessary officers to get the job done.

Judge Overstreet also belives more funding is needed for law enforcement and that we should study the root of the problems.

Commissoner Jackson does not mention the need for proper funding of law enforcement and instead says citizens should arm theirselves but not interfere with law enforcement duties.

Bryant, like many citizens and business leaders is simply frustrated and offering to help in any way possible - you have to appreciate that.

Reverend Fryer wants us to help the kids at younger ages. Well, with single parent non-employed homes, not much can be or will be done.

Mayor Copenhaver, whom I do like but this is absolutely ridiculous....Neighborhoods can help themselves, have an emergency telephone alert service and eventually hire their own off-duty deputies to protect their neighborhoods. REALLY? Mr. Mayor, you can find funds for everything under the sun, waste over 5 MILLION on public transportation, have commissoners travel with their wives to idiotic training seminars and yet when it comes to YOUR NUMBER ONE PRIORITY IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT, Public Safety, your idea of solving the problem is for local businesses and now even local neighborhoods to hire their own off duty police officers. No Mr. Mayor, we alreday pay enough taxes and you raised them on businesses this year 10%. Stop the stupidity and stop funding non-essential government spending. Stop waisting money on bussing when you can simply raise the fees. Sell the golf course which is costing us about $750,000.00 per year, stop firing employess and then giving them a year or two of salary, etc. Properly Fund Law Enforcement and Public Safety, Period.

Commissoner Hatney wishes to look into a Police Department when they want even fund the Sheriff's Office to do the job. Don't complain to the Sheriff that he isn't watching certain neighborhoods when you and the other commissoners have de-funded 38 deputies, issued 5 furlough days, taken away and additional $750,000 from the Sheriff's budget this year, etc. Looking for blame, get a mirror and place it in front of every single commissoner. We don't need dual law enforcement agencies nor do we need police answering to the commission - absurd.

Chris Cunningham, as most every business owner in Augusta wants a fully funded Sheriff's Office, period. Support local law enforcement and give them the funding they need.

This isn't rocket science and the Sheriff knows what he needs but the commission will simply not listen. If we didn't have the money, that would be one thing but we do and we are waisting it every single day in this county on non-essential services, task forces, cell phones, travel, etc.

justfred 01/16/11 - 07:43 am
I was gonna suggest shooting

I was gonna suggest shooting to kill all suspects and placing their heads on spikes for all to see as they drive thru on I-20. In retrospect, perhaps Chris's idea is better.

Riverman1 01/16/11 - 09:34 am
The Chronicle is doing it's

The Chronicle is doing it's part by calling city leaders to discuss the obvious problem. That's the first step. We have to acknowledge that the old city area prior to the 1996 consolidation would be the deadliest city in Ga. if the county hadn't become a city-county government.

But Deke touched on a big part of the problem inadvertantly. "Copenhaver said he'd be willing to serve on Bryant's task force, a group to assist but never usurp the sheriff's powers."

We are too worried about whose power domain is weakened. The Sheriff's Office has to join with the people they serve in the areas affected. The county is predominantly black and the crime is mainly affecting them. The community leaders, including Clint Bryant, are trying to do their part. It's up to law enforcement to build those alliances that have been proven to lessen crime in other cities as I've mentioned before.

I've said this in other ways, but I'm going to say it bluntly here. We should have more black officers moving among the black people in the old city area getting to know them and building trust among the people. If whites are a minority in Richmond County would a black sheriff be able to build these necessary alliances to a greater degree?

Our biggest problem is the majority of the people of Augusta feel separated from their police force that only drives in and out fast enough to pick up someone to take him to jail. Sheriff Strength has to come to this realization and start to work to lessen the division.

Game warden techniques of law enforcement learned from former County Sheriff Charlie Webster don't work for a police force that SERVES the inner city after consolidation. The city county merger changed everything.

Martinez 01/16/11 - 09:35 am
Community Police work. It

Community Police work. It has been done in many other localities with significantly positive results. If the same officers patrol the same neighborhoods day after day, they get to know the neighborhood, the neighborhood gets to know them etc. Officer "downtime" should be spent on foot in those neighborhoods, getting to know the citizens, building relationships etc.

Hold parents responsible. Some communities have designated truancy officers, processing centers and even court, similiar to drug court. When a child misses 5 days unexcused in a semester, the parents are referred to court. Punishment can include everything from community service, being required to shadow the student at school for a few days and even jail time for repeat offenders who make no efforts to take control of their child's education. Most RC teachers will tell you one of their biggest challenges is they can't teach a student who isn't there but are still held responsible for doing so.

While neighborhood watches are nice, how about community involvement? I wonder how many kids each of the leaders above currently mentors? Businesses and even Fort Gordon should be partnered with local schools to provide tutors, mentors and positive role models for our youth to interact with, learn from and aspire to. I have seen many great mentor programs in other cities. When parents don't hold their kids responsible, sometimes having a mentor who visits consistently and expresses a positive interest in seeing a child succeed makes the difference. I know of one district where this has worked so well that every school has it's own volunteer coordinator responsible for training mentors, identifying mentor to mentee assignments, etc.

While not a proponent of magnet schools, we already have some so why not create 1 or 2 Fundamental Schools. Fundamental schools enter into a contract with the whole family, not just the student. That contract includes active parental involvement and if the contract is not adhered to by the child or parent, the child can not continue to attend that school. The requirements weren't real strict, they were things like ... the parent must attend 2 parent teacher conferences per semester. the parent must attend 2 after school events (sport events, chorus concerts etc) per semester. the parent must attend things like open house and parent night. And the parent must volunteer 4 hours per semester at the school. This model works wonderfully for parents whose kids aren't the smartest or most talented (requirements of most magnet programs) but that still really care and want have their children with other students whose parents are equally involved.

Riverman1 01/16/11 - 09:45 am
Martinez, exactly. I am so

Martinez, exactly. I am so glad to see someone else gets IT. If the bonds with the people are built, they will support the officers when they knock a hoodlum up beside the head and tell him to behave.

Martinez 01/16/11 - 09:54 am
One other item consistent

One other item consistent with what Strength said is to create a department in the SO for "Oral Reports". Anything that doesn't require an officer on the scene immediately goes to "Oral Reports". Stolen cars - if the car isn't there, why does an officer need to come out? A huge number of reports can be handled verbally over the phone allowing officers more time handling active issues including building those community relationships. Too many people call 911 for every single issue, establishing an alternate *11 service for non-emergency can literally save lives.

Riverman1 01/16/11 - 09:59 am
More practical suggestions.

More practical suggestions. Require certain businesses to provide private security with off-duty officers such as the Riverwalk. The hotels down there could pay for that. Also, require all businesses in the county to have security cameras and encourage business owners to have weapons.

CabisKhan 01/16/11 - 10:26 am
I agree w/ Martinez.

I agree w/ Martinez. "Fundamental Schools' will allow less accomplished children to start to move up the ladder to qualify for a better school. The required parental involvement will instill a childs admiration and respect for their parent(s) because the parent is making an obvious effort to improve their children's success and will inadvertantly instill pride in the parent(s) towards their children. It just simply starts a positive process rolling along as a rolling snowball gathers more and more mass (love in the family).

marie21 01/16/11 - 11:36 am
Sheriff Strength and his

Sheriff Strength and his employees are doing a great job. Cutting the budget for law enforcement over the last few years has allowed crime in our county to grow. Beautification of our county is important but not more important than keeping our people safe. More gun sale restrictions are NOT the answer. Most criminals get their guns off the street anyway. Tighter gun sales will prevent us law abiding citizens from obtaining guns to protect ourselves in our own homes. The task force might be a good solution. However, I don't think we need politicians at the head of this force. Ronnie Strength is the only one who should be the head of it.

User420 01/16/11 - 02:00 pm
How Richmond county starts

How Richmond county starts following the laws they are supposed to be enforcing? Half of those officers think they are above the law. Get rid of the corruption and maybe people will want to work hand in hand with you!

CorporalGripweed 01/16/11 - 02:26 pm
Until Sheriff Strength

Until Sheriff Strength ebraces "community policing" this upward trend will continue. Sadly Mr. Strength has made it known that he, in his own words,"will NEVER use community based policing". Maybe it's time for Mr. Strength to retire and let someone with a 21st century approach to law enforcement take the reins.

iLove 01/16/11 - 02:58 pm
I agree. Maybe it IS time for

I agree. Maybe it IS time for Mr. Strength to gee oh and make way for a more innovative, hands-on leader.

Martinez 01/16/11 - 06:16 pm
LCCO - - - a militant church

LCCO - - - a militant church driven response as you describe .... no thanks ..... history has shown hundreds of years and failed attempts.

As much as I want to see the crime rate, education problems etc addressed, I am not willing to sacrifice my religious freedoms to do so. And I simply don't believe criminal activity and religion are exclusive clubs. Plenty of criminals hide behind the bible, committ crimes in a warped interpretation of the bible and/or suddenly find the bible after sitting in jail for crimes - only to repeat those offenses once personal freedoms are restored. Who would you rather live next to - - a Pedo-Priest or Gandhi?

workedforit 01/16/11 - 08:32 pm
Give out free bus tickets to

Give out free bus tickets to Atlanta along with 4-5 hundred in cash, but no return ticket. Send all of the trash to the states biggest cesspool.
This way all of the broken idiot criminals will be in the same place and then we can use one of those wonderful liberal solutions to fix the problem. Might save a buck or two.

trimmy 01/16/11 - 10:22 pm
The sheriff seems to be a

The sheriff seems to be a good man. But I think he has it wrong. The focus should be on punishment. Most criminals will be caught because they are stupid. Then they do not receive enough punishment to deter another crime. Violent offenders need to have violent consequences entered into their sentence. Flogging is good. Stocks are appropriate. Drawn and quartered is o.k. for some crimes. Some say it would be inhumane. So what. Give them what they deserve.

lena wayback
lena wayback 01/17/11 - 12:34 am
There is really a very simple

There is really a very simple solution. Every citizen needs to stand up and declare, "This is my house". Tighter gun laws, joke. Do you really believe the criminals out there commiting crimes have obtained guns legally. I am sure the thugs that shot the kids on Carrol Ave passed the required back ground check. Get a grip, arm yourselves and take back your neighborhoods.

lena wayback
lena wayback 01/17/11 - 12:50 am
Sorry, Carrington Drive.

Sorry, Carrington Drive.

Will 01/17/11 - 01:57 am
Yeah, there you go! The next

Yeah, there you go! The next time Junior robs a bank or is caught selling drugs, give him the usual smack on the wrist and go get the parent(s) and throw their butts in the pokey! I bet things will change super-fast then. It is, afterall, their fault for raising a child with no morals or backbone. I dared my kids to make me look bad.

Crime Reports and Rewards TV
Crime Reports and Rewards TV 01/17/11 - 11:01 pm
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Sometimes less than 10% of all crimes are ever even reported to the police because the victims are;
1. Wanted
2. Drug Dealers.
3. Prostitutes
4. In the wrong place at the wrong time and don't want anyone else to know.
5. Trying to sell their home/office or land, and don't want crime to lower their value.
6. Too busy paying taxes to get one hand free from making the money to hand to the tax man so kids can be taught they “Came from an ape like ancestor so some aren't as "evolved" as others”….
7. Think it's a waste of time to report it as they think no one will follow up on it anyway.
8. Don't like, or are afraid of the cops even though they have no warrants.
One of our informants let a man who raped her at gunpoint in his Bobtailed Tractor Trailer go cause she thought she might be behind on her probation fees.. She had just pointed out where a guy lives who stole from the Boat Docks. The Rapist was spotted on his way from the location where he kidnaps the girls and was headed out near the airport where he rapes them. Once he saw her in the Crime Reports and Rewards car he went nuts, pulling over & stopping in the middle of the road & looking like he was getting his gun ready them chasing us to the Red Barn flea-market where the cops caught up to him. I found out she wasn’t even late on her probation fees which is why she let him go. Things like this happen ALL the TIME World Wide not just in A...

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