If I have heard one constant in law enforcement lore in the 30 years I have been working in local media, it is that, perhaps with the exception of a large and active gang or organized crime task force in place, it is virtually impossible for local police to have a serious impact when it comes to reducing the homicide rate.
So pardon me if I laugh out loud, and call BS while I am laughing, at Richmond County Sheriff’s Lt. Calvin Chew’s quote in Monday’s Augusta Chronicle article where he claims the department has done just that. Or does he?
“A homicide is never predictable,” said Richmond County sheriff’s Lt. Calvin Chew, “but being involved in the community is helping decrease the numbers.”
Well Calvin, which is it?
The Bianca Cain Johnson article goes on to list the year’s homicides one at a time and, in doing so, shows a pattern that helps prove the long-held belief that when it comes to most murders, unless you have a police officer visible to the killer in question, there is no way to stop them from occurring.
But for the moment, let’s pretend that Chew is right. A change in tactics has caused the murder rate to drop a whopping 42 percent. That means almost half the murders that occurred last year were the result of poor policing and bad policy. It also means that Sheriff Ronnie Strength was not just an old-fashioned lawman, it means that he was so backwards in his thinking and approach that dozens (and maybe hundreds) of people were needlessly murdered under his watch.
Sorry folks, I cannot allow those words to stand unchallenged in a column bearing my name. It is just too silly a notion to entertain.
Keep in mind, 95 percent of the agency stayed intact after Richard Roundtree became the new sheriff, and the man who is now over the violent crimes division, Major Scott Peebles, was said to be the guiding force behind homicide investigations for the last few years anyway.
There were a few high-profile incidents in the last year that could have easily resulted in multiple homicides that, just by pure dumb luck, did not. Two episodes off the top of my head that were actually caught on video, recall gunfire erupting in crowded areas, one in downtown Augusta, another in a south Augusta neighborhood, that by the grace of God did not result in serious injury or death.
There were other close calls, such as the vicious attack of the young couple on the Riverwalk, that could have easily added to that total. Again, grace of God/dumb luck, take your choice.
The overwhelming majority of murders are spur-of-the-moment events that rarely could be prevented by anything other than the incarceration of the person responsible for crimes he/she committed earlier in their lives. That is the best way the legal system can reduce the murder rate. Of course you have domestic/family disputes which also account for a large chunk of the overall murder total every year, and that is also almost impossible to prevent from a law enforcement standpoint. If Adam and Eve couldn’t stop Cain from killing Abel, what chance does Roundtree, Strength or any other lawman have to do the same?
Sheriff Roundtree has done some very good things in his first year, but bringing down the homicide total is not an accomplishment he or his people should be touting.
They have very little control over it, and if someone tells you different, they are either lying to you or repeating someone else’s lie.