New Sheriff Says He’s Within Earshot
By Laura Perry
It’s been just six weeks since Sheriff Richard Roundtree took office and he’s already shuffled personnel, initiated a controversial media policy and asked for a raise, which he received on Tuesday. Because Roundtree remains an unknown commodity for many in the community, such drastic changes have some feeling uncomfortable with the prospect of his administration.
But Roundtree considers community connection to be the key for a successful Richmond County Sheriff’s Office. From 2000-2008, Roundtree said that he was a part of 98 percent of all murder investigations. For those investigations that he was the lead investigator, he said that he and District Attorney Ashley Wright only had one that resulted in a not guilty verdict. Roundtree said it was a team effort.
When Judge Danny Craig invited Roundtree to speak at the Augusta Kiwanis Club two weeks ago, Roundtree told this group of Augusta business people that the Sheriff’s office belongs to the people and that the idea wasn’t his own – it goes back 2,613 years.
“Around 600 B.C., communities, or ‘shires,’ were ruled over by shire reeves, or sheriffs,” he said. “Every citizen within ear shot of the sheriff’s call would be lawfully obligated to join the posse comitatus, or group, and band together to catch criminals. They didn’t use cell phones, they didn’t send text messages, they didn’t send an email, you didn’t see it on the news – they said every person within earshot of the shire reeves would be lawfully obligated to band together to catch criminals.”
For Roundtree, whose first beat was walking on Riverwalk and Broad Street, this is his idea for community policing. Sheriff’s Deputies should be within earshot of local citizens – not a phone call away, not an email away – within earshot.
“I knew every merchant, I knew every shop keeper, I knew everybody,” he said. “That was some of the best policing days of my life.”
He said he thinks this archaic concept is even more applicable in today’s society.
“I’ve told them that those cars are means of transport to get you back and forth from location to location,” he said. “We’re aiming for a more direct patrol. When you go to a neighborhood, get out of those cars. Park those cars – get out. You will start seeing the difference – trust me, you will.”
Not only is it important to help people, but he says it’s also important for people to know they are there.
“Because we, as law enforcement officers, should not just be seeing people on their dark days,” he said. “We should see them in better days. So if, unfortunately, you do have a dark day, when that shire reeve deputy pulls up—he is a familiar face. He’s a person that you have seen and that you have built a relationship with before that dark day.”
Roundtree’s often stated goal for the next four years is to make Augusta a state-wide model for law enforcement. He said he’ll achieve that goal by bringing as many local people and organizations together as possible. Then, after another four-year election cycle, Roundtree says that he’ll have one of the best law enforcement staffs in the nation.
Another focus: Augusta’s gang violence. Roundtree says that as Georgia’s second largest city, we’d be naive to think we didn’t have a gang problem, and his efforts will be centered on where the problem begins – within the school system.
“We are going to create a six-man gang task force in the school system to make parents and kids aware of the gang situation,” said Roundtree. “Almost eight years ago, Judge Craig and I came up with a comprehensive plan to address this problem. With the reconstruction of budget resources, we’re still waiting to see.”
As for guns, Roundtree said he believes in the personal right to bear arms, but says more education is the key to public safety. He compared it to driving— when you’re learning to drive, you take driving school courses, become proficient in it and then you’re licensed to drive. The right to bear arms goes further than just buying a gun and saying, “I’ve got five AK47s in my closet and I’m just waiting on somebody to knock on my door.”
In the question and answer period, Roundtree was asked about Greenville, South Carolina’s downtown surveillance cameras, which are being credited for aiding in arrests. He said obtaining such cameras are at the top of his list
“There is a program where, for $40,000, we’ll get four cameras for hotspots and the computer programs that provide identity analysis software to go along with it,” he said. “Cameras don’t call in sick; they don’t come to work with an attitude. They see it and we get it done, recording 24 hours a day, 7 days a week—that’s maintaining and storing the information.”
Though he admitted that technology was important, it was the community partnerships Roundtree seemed most excited about.
“If the people feel that they’re engaged and that their resources and responsibilities are going to be taken seriously and they’re going to be protected, they’re more likely to come forward with information,” he said. “But when they feel like their cry is not going to be heard and they’re going to be exposed – that’s when they’re reluctant.”
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New Sheriff Says He’s Within Earshot
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