Forsyth Police Chief Eddie Harris gave city council an update on Monday night on the rash of car break-ins and thefts that is plaguing the Country Club Drive/Morningside Drive/Ensign Road area. He said the city police force is coordinating with Monroe County Sheriff’s Office in investigating the crimes. The county arrested two suspects last week and has them in jail, but the crimes have continued, apparently by different perpetrators.
“We’re doing everything in our power to address it,” said Harris. “I want to reiterate to citizens that we’re doing our best.”
Three of those citizens attended Monday’s council meeting and expressed their concerns during public comments at the end of the meeting. Former council member Jimmy Jones, who is one of the victims in the crime spree, said that he is taking the initiative in forming a neighborhood watch for the area. He said there have been car break-ins and thefts every two or three weeks for seven or eight months.
Jones said he has talked with Harris and with Sheriff Brad Freeman and was to speak at the commissioners meeting on Tuesday night. He is asking for a good place for the neighborhood watch to meet.
“It escalated last night (Sunday) with the window broken,” said Jones. “They’re looking for certain items—cash, guns, vehicles. There’s a problem.”
“What else can we do?” asked Dawn Williams, who has also been a victim of thieves in the neighborhood. She said her daughter, whose car window was broken, had locked her car. Williams said they have security lights and they lock all doors. Her son’s Jeep, which was also entered, can’t be locked.
Jenny Barfield told council she has lived in the neighborhood two years and that cars have been broken into throughout that time. She said she always locks her car door, but as she brought in groceries and got busy with other things, she forgot to do so last night. An officer knocked on her door at 1 a.m. to tell her that her car had been broken into.
“It’s an invasion of my property. It shouldn’t be happening,” said Barfield. “Are they in vehicles? On foot? There are constantly people driving around.”
Harris said he thinks most often the criminals park a vehicle down the road and walk to houses, going to multiple houses. He thinks more than one group is committing the thefts. He encouraged neighbors to report anyone driving around and anything they consider suspicious. He said he went to the neighborhood in his personal vehicle about two weeks ago and sat in the middle of the road.
He could see people looking out the windows, but even though he left and came back, no one ever called the police department. Harris said he expected to get a call from a dispatcher about a suspicious vehicle, but no one called.
“When you see someone at 3 a.m. in a hoodie, they’re probably up to no good,” said Harris. “Call the police department when you see any suspicious person. We’ll come out and identify the person and ask why they’re in the area.”
Council member Greg Goolsby said he lives in the neighborhood and has seen police cars with blue lights and floodlights come into the neighborhood but worries that it is almost like broadcasting, “Here comes the police.” He said he appreciates that he has seen more police in the neighborhood lately.
“It’s real easy to hide there,” said Jones. “There is lots of vacant land [near the neighborhood] plus the golf course.”
Council member Chris Hewett suggested homeowners cut back bushes to eliminate them as hiding places and keep their floodlights on all night.
Harris advised to always lock vehicles and not leave anything of value in vehicles. He did not give any details on the report of shots fired recently in the neighborhood. It was uncertain whether the reported shots were fired by a homeowner or someone who had come into the neighborhood. He said some speculation was that teens were joy-riding in the neighborhood and looking for crimes of opportunity, such as unlocked cars. Asked whether the frequent car break-ins are only in this one neighborhood, Harris said that mainly they are. They have occurred in one or two other neighborhoods, but not as frequently and repeatedly as they have in this one.
Don Daniel asked Harris how many Forsyth Police Department cars patrol at night. Harris declined to answer, indicating he would be giving information that could be used by criminals.
Harris asked that anyone who sees anything unusual call 478-993-1005. City manager Janice Hall said anyone can call 911 any time.
“Don’t say you don’t want to bother them,” said Hall. “Let them know what you have seen and heard. Let them be the ones to chase.”