Originally created 04/11/98

Homefront: Downtown has frequent woes from vandals



Augusta Library vandals should be pitching for the Braves.

It takes a pretty good arm to hurl a brick through the double-pane glass windows, and vandals have managed to do it on several occasions.

"It's probably a challenge for them to see if they can get the rocks through the window," said library Director Richard Leach. "We can see places where a rock bounced off the glass."

The burglaries and vandalism the library has suffered are common among businesses and storefronts downtown, and there's rarely any rhyme or reason to what business is targeted or when.

"It's a periodic problem," Mr. Leach said. "We'll go nine or 10 months with nothing and then have three weeks of vandalism." After three steady weeks last fall during which staffers came to work to find smashed-out front windows, vandals apparently have moved on.

Businesses and offices throughout downtown experience the same dilemma: Their storefronts and glass windows become targets for bored teens with idle time. Augusta Sporting Goods on Eighth Street was burglarized in February and more than $150 in merchandise stolen.

Empire Financial Service on Greene Street was burglarized twice in January and February, and more than $4,000 in computer and office equipment was taken.

Places of worship are not immune, either. Two Greene Street churches, First Christian and Union Baptist, also were broken into and vandalized earlier this year.

"It's a sad situation when vandals break in," said the Rev. William Wright, pastor of Union Baptist Church, where expensive stained-glass windows have been broken out. "It's a real dilemma for the church, because we can't replace them."

Over the last few years, the church has been vandalized, and the congregation is grappling with the challenge to raise funds for repairs.

The Rev. Betty Jones, pastor of Miles Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in the Turpin Hill neighborhood, has had burglar alarms and high-tech lighting installed at her church since vandals broke in and caused $5,000 in damage and stole stereo equipment in January.

But no area in or out of the city limits is immune to property crime -- vandalism, burglaries and car thefts, said Richmond County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Ronald Strength.

As for violent crime, the downtown area has little, Chief Deputy Strength said.

"Mostly property crimes, and nobody is immune to that," he said.

Bars and nightclubs are closely monitored by the sheriff's vice squad.

Whenever a deputy is called to a restaurant, bar or club where alcohol is served, the reports are sent directly to the narcotics and vice investigators.

"If a place has a lot of fights or car thefts, we can monitor that place to see if a pattern is developing," said Narcotics Investigator Allan Rollins. "For the most part, problems can be kept to a minimum."

Many of the downtown bars and clubs have off-duty deputies working as security guards.