Reported crime in the city of Norcross has significantly increased since the beginning of 2012, but police believe it's because of the area on the eastern side of Buford Highway, which was annexed early last year.
In an assessment of the Norcross Police Department, Chief Warren Summers presented this overview of the department before the Norcross City Council during the annual retreat Monday.
"2012 is going to have to be our 'new normal' in Norcross, if you will, because we really can't take the statistics from 2012 and compare them to 2011 because we annexed the land mass of quite a few people," he said, adding that the city gained about 5,000 new citizens.
On the contrary, after subtracting the newer part of Norcross, reported incidents actually decreased compared to the previous year, he added.
With all the 2012 data, though, two particular types of incidents that have increased are car accidents and armed robberies. Car accidents, which have doubled, rose mainly because of the annexation of Jimmy Carter Boulevard. Summers said some of the officers that have joined Norcross PD are heavily trained in traffic collisions and possibly have more experience than state troopers, so they have come in handy.
Robberies, which many have occurred on the east side, are high on the chief's agenda. While the number of reported robberies are high, Summers believes there are many unreported robberies occurring, too, simply because the citizens are afraid to speak with police officers. Summers said many of the victims of the crimes are Hispanic, so the officers are notifying those areas that the department is not concerned about their immigration status when they report incidents.
Summers' presentation not only covered the bad news but also the good news: CALEA, the Commission for Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies Inc. that assessed the police department's procedures, management, operations and support services in December, also recommended Norcross PD to be approved. Meeting CALEA's standards is part of a voluntary process to gain accreditation, which is a highly prized recognition.
Mayor Bucky Johnson noted that when the CALEA assessors asked random citizens about what they thought about the police department, all the feedback was positive, which the assessors said they've never seen before.
Additionally, Summers told the council what the department's current and future plans are to make Norcross safer. Already in place to help alleviate crime, particularly robberies, is the crime suppression team. Run by six members, the team analyzes all city crime using the police's GPS system so that they can determine which areas are "hotspots" and therefore need more attention.
Norcross PD also will keep utilizing Iron Sky, the citywide surveillance camera system, and the license plate reader system. Even though Iron Sky and the tag reader recently helped with a series of entering auto incidents along Northbelt Parkway, Summers said they have been looking at other systems that could possibly replace it.
Councilman Keith Shewbert said he's a big advocate for Iron Sky, but has reservations on the license plate readers. He believes it's intrusive and an invasion of privacy because it determines where every car is at any given moment.
Summers said he doesn't believe the information from the license plate readers is public record, but Shewbert doesn't feel comfortable with that information being accessible to anyone, including the department.
Councilman David McLeroy pointed out that the whole reason why every car has a tag number is so that police can identify vehicles and therefore doesn't see it as an invasion of privacy.
Going back to more current and future plans, the police department is working with the city's public relations and code enforcement to help with the quality of life in Norcross. The Police and Citizens Together program is still in action, and the department trying to expand its force in neighborhoods. Norcross PD also aims to keep using its Facebook page to reach out to citizens since it's become a helpful tool, said Summers.
One safety measure that the chief suggested could be useful and inexpensive is installing panic buttons in the city parks, similar to the call boxes seen on many college campuses. If someone's in danger, he or she could press the button to alert police and have cameras pointed to that area.
"We're trying to do some things to knock crime down," said Summers. "We know what 2012 looks like, and we know we've got to do a better job, so that's what we're going to do [this] year."
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