I have listened to a police scanner during working hours for most of my career. After 24 years I have learned that most calls are routine and don’t warrant both ears. A welfare check on a neighbor. A fender bender in a parking lot. Civil papers served in a divorce.
But I have also learned to detect when I might need to turn up the volume. The dispatcher speaks with more urgency. She might raise her voice slightly. The deputies answer more quickly and their voices take on a serious, focused tone.
I heard such a call last week.
An Estes Road woman could see an intruder in her yard. Only she wasn’t there. She was watching him on her phone with a security camera. She was actually out of town but now she was worried sick.
“He’s going toward the rear of the home,” the dispatcher warned deputies.
Deputies responded that they were nearby and en route as fast as they could. Another deputy said he wasn’t too far and would speed in that direction as well.
“He’s going near the shed in the back of the house,” the dispatcher announced, relaying updates from the homeowner who was watching her security feed.
Monroe County doesn’t have a SWAT team, but this prowler was about to meet what amounted to one. I rolled my office chair to the scanner and closed my door so I could listen better.
One deputy announced his arrival on one side of the home.
“I’ll be getting out on foot,” he told the dispatcher urgently.
Another deputy parked on the other side of the home and would approach from that direction. Neither knew whether the suspect was armed.
There was what the experts call “radio silence” for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only a few seconds. Finally a deputy got back on his radio to give the dispatcher the latest.
“This subject is gonna be Keith Edge from the Monroe County tax assessors office,” the deputy said. “We all know Keith and everything is 10-4. He is doing a property assessment.”
Edge, a big Mary Persons fan who’s as well known as anyone in Forsyth, later told me that all three deputies actually swooped in with guns drawn as he sat in his county-issued car. He was later able to laugh about it.
Edge’s boss, Monroe County chief appraiser Bobby Gerhardt, told me that Georgia law gives assessors the right to go onto people’s property to make sure homeowners are paying the right amount in property taxes. They cannot, however, go inside the home, and Edge wasn’t trying to.
Gerhardt said Edge inspects every property that gets a county building permit to ensure that improvements are reflected in their tax assessment. Edge is not the only assessor who’s had a gun pulled on them. Tax assessor Bob Simmons had the same thing happen in Bibb County one time.
Gerhardt said they try to be respectful and knock on the front door first, then the back door to identify themselves. In this case, said Gerhardt, the couple was in Wyoming. But the door ring alerted them and they watched Edge’s movements on camera.
The assessors have been increasingly busy in recent years with the county’s increase in construction. The surge in new homes and in property values, along with Plant Scherer, allow Monroe County to keep its millage rate among the lowest in Middle Georgia. Monroe County’s property tax rate is 30 percent lower than Bibb County’s. Not only is Monroe County’s millage rate lower, but its homestead exemption is more than double that of Bibb County. A Monroe County homeowner can deduct a $12,000 homestead exemption off its final home assessment (40 percent of assessed value) before figuring their tax bill. In Bibb County the exemption is only $5,000.
That’s a big reason that Monroe County homes and property are much more valuable than those in Bibb County. As for last week’s scare, Gerhardt said everybody did their job. Edge was doing his job. The deputies were doing their jobs. And he’s thankful it all worked out. But he admits it wasn’t funny at the time.
“When you’re staring down a gun, that’s a different story.”
Gerhardt said they’re going to install lights on assessor’s county vehicles hoping to assure homeowners they’re on official business.
“Not too many robbers have those,” said Gerhardt.
Since Edge is a big Auburn fan, maybe his lights will be orange and blue.