“We’ve made some improvements, and we have more to do,” said Monroe County Sheriff Brad Freeman to a full house at the High Falls Civic Club on Jan. 30. “I think I’ve come through on 90 percent of my campaign promises.”
Freeman spoke about what he has accomplished in his first year in office and the things he is still working to get done. Monroe County Sheriff’s Office now has a crime scene van, known as the ‘evidence recovery unit.’
The unit reconstructs a crime scene like a traffic unit reconstructs an accident. Freeman detailed one of his deputies to work with Macon-Bibb County investigations unit for 60 days; during that time he worked seven homicides. He now has the experience if Monroe County needs it.
Freeman said Monroe County Sheriff’s Office was short 21 personnel when he took office; it is now short seven personnel, including one vacancy recently created by firing a deputy. The 911 Center is fully staffed. The Sheriff’s office has added a canine unit, and it has a resource officer assigned to every Monroe County school. The resource officers are now directed not to leave their school while it is in session. He noted that at one point, before he took office, he ran into resource officers at a Macon restaurant during school hours. He told resource officers there is food available at their schools.
Freeman said an asset he would like to add to Monroe County is a dog that alerts on explosives, not because he expects to find explosives but because a dog so trained would alert on gunpowder.
“The only way to search a whole school for a gun is with a dog that alerts on gunpowder,” said Freeman.
The Monroe County jail is now medically accredited. Freeman said DUI arrests are up 33 percent, and drug arrests are up 25-30 percent for arrests made by the drug unit, not counting those made on patrol.
“In High Falls drug arrests are up about 50 percent,” said Freeman. “I’ve got guys in the woods not a mile from here right now.”
He said he had just delivered a packet to condemn a house on Mace Manor that residents had complained about harboring drug users at a previous High Falls Civic Club meeting. He said he is starting work to condemn another nearby house where drug users are reportedly squatting. In response to a question of whether property owners can be told to move people out, Freeman said he met with District Attorney Jonathan Adams about finding legal ways to handle squatters. Freeman said law enforcement can’t search a house without a warrant, and the Supreme Court has ruled that information to get a warrant must be less than two weeks old.
Freeman said the Sheriff’s Office recently found 39 marijuana plants at a house across from the recycling center. The owners of the house live out of town and were only loosely associated with someone running a marijuana business out of it.
Freeman said most of the crime in Monroe County is not “home-grown;” he said much of it comes from Spalding, Butts, Lamar and Henry counties, and it seems that most arrests of locals are people who have only lived in Monroe County five months. He encourages his deputies to stop and talk with persons they see walking the streets who look suspicious and to offer them a ride out of the county if they would like one.
Freeman said his officers get frustrated with laws that allow people they bring to the jail to get out before they can even finish filling out the paperwork on them. He said they try to make their charges so that those arrested at least have to post bond.
“I see some people all the time. I know they have stolen, and we still see them all the time [walking the roads],” said one High Falls resident.
Asked about sanctuary cities and gun rights, “I believe in the second amendment. I believe in all of the amendments,” Freeman said. “I took an oath to uphold the Constitution. I think a well-armed citizen is a great thing. You can’t always depend on government. When there’s a tree down, 90 percent of the time, it’s your neighbor who helps.”
“We need another code enforcement officer,” said Jan Knecht. “One guy for 400 square miles just can’t do it.”
Freeman encouraged the High Falls citizens to keep telling Monroe County commissioners they need another code enforcement officer. He said that with everything else code enforcement officer Jeff Wilson is assigned, he now patrols High Falls one Sunday per month in Freeman’s attempt to have more patrol officers in the county. He said he has increased High Falls patrols 200 percent since he took office.
Asked if he can use inmates to pick up trash along roadways, Freeman said yes, but inmates can only work when the outside temperature is 50 degrees or warmer. He can only use low level offenders to work outside and a deputy oversees every 3-4 inmates. Inmates can’t pick up trash on private property, only right-of-ways and government property.
One resident related a problem with trespassers coming via the lake and asked who has jurisdiction when a homeowner feels threatened by someone in a boat. Freeman said the Sheriff’s Office has jurisdiction, but it takes time to get a boat on the lake. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources will provide deputies a boat from High Falls or Jackson Lake. The process is slower now since there is no ranger assigned to High Falls.
“But we can call [Game Warden] Tony Wynne and get on the water in 30 minutes,” said Freeman.
“Don’t be bashful to call,” said Freeman. “If it looks suspicious to you, it probably is.”
He said after 5 p.m. all calls to the Sheriff’s Office go to the 911 Center; so there is no problem with calling 911 about suspicious activity. He said citizens can ask to have their calls directed to the drug unit, which rotates through different zones in the county. High Falls is “A zone.”
“I think you’ve been doing a wonderful job,” said Knecht.