Guest Editorial: We must band together to stop crime

Crime and vandalism are both rearing their kindred ugly heads more frequently lately. News reports of crime running rampant at the Mall at Stonecrest is especially disturbing as this mall is relatively new and is already seeing a rapid turnover of stores.

The Nancy Guinn Library suffered serious damage on Halloween. The law offices of Attorney Jorge Flores and the property of The Rockdale Citizen newspaper were damaged as well. There have been numerous incidents of vandalism at the library, and this is not the first smashed window. The pedestal type walkway lights in the rear of the building are regularly knocked out. Vandalism may have cost the library up to $10,000 at a time when the planners are desperately squeezing every dollar to accomplish the planned expansion and renovation of the existing premises. These are criminal acts of teenagers, and have become repetitive. Library employees' automobiles are frequently targeted for tire cutting and paint scratching.

Activities such as these, unchecked, tend to escalate in frequency, as well as severity.

All too often, when such incidents occur, we tend to cluck our tongues, shake our heads and go apathetically on our way, possibly thinking that "someone should do something about that." Seeds of societal destruction lie in that path of thought.

The parable of "The Good Samaritan" seems to be applicable here. It is unlikely that the numerous acts of vandalism on the library property have gone totally unnoticed by some person. We need to take a closer look, even going back for a second look, if activities seem suspicious, to see what is happening. If we rely on our police force to prevent such occurrences without our involvement and participation, we are foolish. It does little good for police cars to whiz around responding to reports of damage or injury after the fact. Far more good could be accomplished by their responding to a report of suspicious activity. Damage and injury might be averted, or a youngster might be prevented from taking a step on the wrong path by such intervention.

The point is that the city cannot afford to station crews of officers at the library and the various school properties or other places to avert these activities. We can all participate in corrective action which would be far more effective in protecting our community.

A proper response to this trend is:

1.) We, as responsible citizenry, abandon our apathy and become alert to the rapidly growing problem; to what it is costing us, both as taxpayers and as prideful citizens of this community.

2.) We can all participate in a "watch" program. Extending the concept of the "Neighborhood Watch" program to "Community Watch" is a concept easily grasped. We can all help keep an eye on public properties and the community as a whole, watching for and reporting suspicious activity, such as loitering or lurking when and where such loitering seems inappropriate. After all, most people are now equipped with cell phones, and could easily pull over and report suspicious activity. Even the act of pulling over and taking a look might have a preventive effect on mischief being contemplated. We can all adopt an attitude, within reasonable limits, that says, "Yes, I am my brother's keeper!"

It would also seem that a media program to inform the public, and parents particularly, of the degree to which they might be held responsible for the activities of their children. Realization of potential responsibility for $10,000 in damages done to the public library should be a sobering thought to someone.

We have the opportunity to help our community and avoid the needless expense of peace officers responding to crime or vandalism after the fact. Why shouldn't all of us, as responsible citizens, constitute a Community Watch, where trouble can't easily hide, where consequences for destructive action comes into play, and community blight is avoided.?

At the Mall at Stonecrest, the teamwork of caring and attentive citizens in reporting suspicious activity can easily trump the networking of the predator groups.

In Conyers, it should be easier for the police to detail a patrolman for instant response to citizen call-ins than attempting to post officers at all trouble spots such as the library and schools. Responding to a "suspicious person or activity" call might prevent crime, save property and possibly prevent a youngster from taking a wrong path in life.

If you want better police protection, there are two apparent ways to get it. One is by hiring a whole platoon of added patrolmen at a very high cost. The other is to stop screaming for more and more patrol officers and join in the community watch. Assist those officers we already have do a much better job by helping stop crime and vandalism before it happens - at no cost. Think 20,000 sets of eyes and ears at no cost.

The number of the Conyers Police Department is 770-483-6600. The Rockdale County Sheriff's Office number for this purpose is 770-483-4200. Put them in your cell phone directory and use them.

Charles Walker formerly served as the mayor of the city of Conyers, from 1978 through 1998. Currently he works in the Conyers-Rockdale Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at Charles.Walker@conyers-rockdale.com.