Drivers are getting bolder and fleeing police more, a lot more, in Monroe County this year, leading to three deaths already in 2020 and endangering the public. And sheriff Brad Freeman says he thinks it’s a direct result of the refusal of certain leaders across the U.S. this year to enforce the law and bring them to account.

“We’ve basically got a political party that condones breaking the law,” said Freeman. “These criminals are not in a bubble. They see the news and what’s going on. They see a party that’s not gonna enforce the law and it emboldens them to break the law.”

The surge in criminals fleeing is indisputable. In 2016 Monroe County authorities reported nine chases. In 2017 there were just five. But in 2019 the number of chases surged to 39, and in 2020 there have already been 47 chases with more than two months left to go. In nine of those 47 chases Monroe deputies were assisting other counties and in five of them deputies gave up the case without an arrest.

Around 8:30 p.m. on Sunday, Monroe County deputies tried to stop an Air Force cadet on a motorcycle for going 92 mph on I-75 south. He fled and wound up crashing into the guardrail and being killed near the Rumble Road exit. Tysen Pullens, 19, became the third fatality of the year on Monroe County roads during a chase from deputies.

Freeman said it’s no surprise that as mayors and governors allowed lawlessness across the U.S., even rural Monroe County would be affected by the signals that have been sent out.

“It’s almost like Georgia law has become the book of suggestions,” said Freeman.

In March, the Atlanta Police Department announced it would no longer chase law breakers. Criminals hearing it on the news may not be concerned with what jurisdiction that applies to.

“Atlanta is pro-crime almost,” said Freeman. “So people think, ‘Georgia doesn’t enforce the law anymore’. And they found out, oops, in some places they do. Unfortunately they don’t know what jurisdiction they’re in.”

Freeman said people have watched this summer as certain jurisdictions allowed people to loot or rob or burn down a store and nothing happens. It’s understandable they might guess that the speed limit is a suggestion too, said Freeman.

With Monroe County having 26 miles of interstate between Macon and Atlanta, local deputies are bearing the brunt of these messages being sent out to the criminal element, said Freeman.

“You’re putting the criminal in more danger, the public in more danger, and the deputies in more danger,” by encouraging lawlessness, said Freeman.

On Friday, two Wisconsin drivers sped brazenly down the emergency lane of I-75 in stolen cars past a Monroe County deputy. That deputy and deputies from several adjoining counties joined in the chase and the pair had to be spun out by Lamar County patrol cars. The suspects were injured and taken to the hospital.

“When politicians don’t condemn lawlessness,” said Freeman, “this is what you get. It emboldens them. It’s the trickle down effect. It may be happening in Atlanta or New York or Los Angeles, but they emulate what they see.”

Butts County sheriff Gary Long said he’s seeing a similar surge in chases in his county, from 14 in 2019 to 21 so far this year that his deputies have initiated. He said a big part of it, in his opinion, is former Gov. Nathan Deal’s criminal justice reform that sprung inmates out of prison and onto parole. 

“Most people we’re chasing are parole violators who have a lot to lose if they get caught,” said Long. Besides, said Long, criminals heading north on I-75 may realize that no county north of Butts County in the metro area will help Butts County deputies in a chase.

Long said there’s one local meth dealer he or his deputies have arrested four times in the past 20 years who keeps getting released after short prison terms and is the type of violator who flees. Long said most of the suspects they chase are white males, the predominant users of meth, which is being used more as its price has come down. 

Despite the lawlessness, Monroe County authorities say they’ll continue to take fleeing from police seriously. Last Wednesday, an Iranian man was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to fleeing Monroe County deputies at high speeds, including a wrong-way jaunt down I-75, before ramming one of them in his patrol car back in the Greystone subdivision in January. 

Freeman said he and district attorney Jonathan Adams both believe that if you flee police, you put lives at risk and should serve prison time. They’ll apparently have to prosecute a lot more such cases in the near future.