I recently had the opportunity to interview Sandy Springs Police Chief Terry Sult on a variety of topics as he approaches a year and a half on the job. The following are excepts from that interview.
Q. Are we seeing an increase of crime in upscale neighborhoods of the city?
A. No, actually crime across the board is down. The hot spots that we have are still centered around apartments and the transitional locations. The highest concentration of problems is still the Northwoods Drive/Roswell Road/I-285 area.
Since the first year of our operation, we have decreased the land mass of hot spots by 24 percent. We still have problems and they are isolated for the most part right down Roswell Road, generally in the apartment complexes and just south of I-285.
The last four-months crime trend shows the large increase is just south of I-285 and around the Prado. A lot of that crime is fraud, shoplifting. Target has a very good loss prevention person, so they are reporting a lot more of their shoplifting and, frankly, making some pretty good arrests. The result is there is more crime reported.
We are actively involved with the community. We are doing some things with Lake Forest Elementary School which serves that area, trying to develop more outreach into the Latino community to improve communications. If we build trust there, we will get more reports as well.
Q. How much shifting of forces takes place to respond to those situations?
A. We operate under a community-oriented-policing philosophy, which is about identifying the important problems and fixing them. We have community coordinators who work with the community and then we have officers who are assigned to the same beats all the time.
We have a flexible pro-active and reactionary force. When we see this differential change, we put pressure on those areas. But we also put in preventive measures. The primary concern is to prevent crime.
Q. What percentage of your enforcement work is in traffic control?
A. I won’t say traffic is our number one problem, but it is a priority. We spend a lot of time trying to prevent injury and damage that happens from accidents.
Frankly, I think it is unethical for the police department to consider revenue by any stretch of the imagination. We will never police under those terms as long as I am here. Our highest priority should be those areas where we have the most frequent incidence of injury accidents and damage should be second. Those are the important traffic problems to work on.
We should be looking at it from all aspects. We should be enforcing the law. We should also educate the community in regards to what the problems are and where they are. Then we should be working with traffic engineering to see if there are things we can do, like increasing the timing of the yellow light by a second, alterations to an intersection or clear the line of sight. If it is an engineering problem, we need to correct it, not penalize people for the city having created a bad design.
Q. Is your force strength where it should be?
A. We operate in Sandy Springs under a strategy of an efficient, effective model of policing. We want to be as streamlined as we can with officers but we want to have an adequate number. We want to be effective with better use of technology. There is no magic formula that says you need X number of officers for a certain size city.
What we need to have is enough discretionary time for the officers to be proactive in the community to fix problems. If we can get to the point where we have 25 percent of the average officer’s time on the street available for discretionary problem solving, we will be where we need to be. Anything you do to open up to the outside….to get away from those closed windows of the patrol car and have the opportunity to talk to people and learn about the community….That is what we have to do.
One thing that we have in Sandy Springs is a community that believes in its police department. As a result, the officers believe in their community.
Q. What is being done about a new police headquarters?
A. It is no secret this (current headquarters building at 5995 Barfield Road) was a short-term building. It is not structurally sound enough and it cannot be permanent from that standard alone. In terms of space, it might be okay for today in square footage, but there is a lot of wasted space. We don’t even have a locker room and showers for the officers. It is very difficult. We have to lease training facilities when we have a large class, because we do not have the classrooms.
We have got to focus on the future. There are very few facilities in Sandy Springs that have the seismic standards required. We have limited options.
It may be that we move into a temporary facility until the city can afford to build a facility that will last 20 to 25 years. I would rather be patient and deal with another temporary facility than rush something that doesn’t take the best advantage of the taxpayer’s dollar for several decades to come.
We need to make sure we can afford to do that next step, because we need to do it right and we need to build it for the future not for today.
My goal would be to have a building in place within five years that would be a hardened facility and would contain the Emergency Operations (911) Center as well. Shame on us if we rush out and build a 20-year facility and it doesn’t meet that long-term vision.