By Gerhard Schneibel
gerhard@reporternewspapers.net

Sandy Springs’ new police chief, Terry Sult, plans to implement a geographic approach to police work and “drill geographic accountability” throughout the ranks, he told people at Dist. 5 Councilman Tibby DeJulio’s town-hall meeting Nov. 5 at the Church of the Atonement on High Point Road.

Sult, formerly the police chief in Gastonia, N.C., started his new job Oct. 27 and said he was impressed by the department’s officers. “All of the officers met me … looked me in the eye. … It’s clear they are hand-picked.”

He said his plan is “to restructure the whole organization to a neighborhood organization.” The department’s mission will be to prevent crime and enforce the law through partnership with citizens.

“There are some leadership issues that we need to address, but those are fixable,” Sult said. “It doesn’t have to be the Terry Sult way; it only has to be the way that gets us to the resolution of the problem.”

Sult identified two priorities: enhancing the “analytical capability within the Police Department right now” and completing the 911 center planned by the cities of Sandy Springs and Johns Creek.

The 911 center will be on the corner of Barfield Road and Mount Vernon Highway and is expected to be complete in August, Sult said. “I am so excited about the new 911 center and all the technology that is going into it.”

Strengthening the department’s ability to gather and analyze crime data is a vital part of Sult’s plan to divide the city into districts and make officers responsible for them.

“What we’re going to do when we get this analytical capability in place — and I’ve got people who can help us do that — is we’re going to measure crime by neighborhoods,” he said.

Some neighborhoods may be afflicted by residential break-ins, while others suffer from commercial robberies. Assigning officers geographically should give them an opportunity to familiarize themselves with their districts and foster community contact.

Sult said a citizen who dials 911 “should recognize at least one officer who comes to your door if you’re engaged.”

It’s not certain how many districts the city will be split into, but it could be as many as five. Neighborhoods, historic districts and dense commercial areas will not be split up, Sult said.

“I have a good idea where it will end up,” he said. “We need to make sure our sense of the community is the same as yours.”

Sult warned citizens that reducing crime may not be as easy for the police as it once was. An increase in the number of officers in Sandy Springs has had a positive statistical effect since the department was formed in 2006. But with no new money or manpower, he said, “it’s going to get harder as we go along.”

One issue in the city is gang activity. While much of it is “emulation” rather than serious criminal activity, “we do have an element because we’re so close to … Atlanta, so we do have to keep our fingers on the pulse,” Sult said. Doing so will include working with other jurisdictions to maintain awareness of criminals who could travel from surrounding areas into Sandy Springs.

John Westney, who listened to Sult’s presentation, said it is “good that we’ve been able to get somebody as experienced as he is.”

“I felt that he was very right on target,” Lucy Westney said.

“The moment we got to be a city and we started increasing the police presence … I felt much more confident, but I feel they’ve gotten a really terrific person here. I’m really impressed,” she said.

Sult said: “If we don’t have a dialogue, we’re going to miss an opportunity to tailor the department to the community’s needs.”