Patrolling the streets of AthensPosted: April 3, 2014
By: William McFadden
Each week downtown Athens plays host to crowds of people trying to blow off stress, celebrate an occasion, or enjoy a night on the town. In order for those men and women to fully enjoy their night, they must feel safe and secure. The Athens-Clarke County Police Department are focused on providing that security for the downtown crowds.
To the ACCPD, a night downtown is just another night on the job; according to assistant chief of police Fred Stephens, the main focus of an on-duty policeman is the protection of the citizens enjoying the nightlife.
“The mission is to eliminate the fear of crime, policing is a shared responsibility so every individual can assist,” Stephens said. “When visitors and citizens are obeying the law and minimizing risk, we believe that is the most successful night.”
In a college town, many of the bars are occupied by underage students who are drinking illegally.
A WSB-TV article stated that, on average, 1,000 underage drinkers are arrested each year in Athens-Clarke County.
“The police officers downtown are very high-visibility,” Stephens said. “We understand that in a college town underage drinking is likely to happen. We try and intervene when it may lead to criminal activity or endangerment of an individual.”
One such student, junior Jackson Ruck, has had conversations with the ACCPD before and described them as reasonable.
“I was walking home with a friend and we were approached on a street corner by two bike cops,” Ruck said. “They asked us if we had been drinking and we told them yes. Then they asked if we were 21 and we told them that we were 20; the cops told us to be safe on the way home and didn’t cause any problems.”
During nights involving higher quantities of people, such as football or concert weekends, the assigned police receive additional support.
“There is a special downtown unit that is assigned only to downtown Athens,” Stephens said. “During busier weekends, additional officers from the West Precinct are brought in to help with crowd control.”
“I have definitely noticed more police officers during the weekends,” Ruck stated. “They usually have six or seven bike-cops on Clayton Street that keep the long lines and crowds at bay.”
Not all people view the increase of police as a deterrent; “I don’t think that having more cops outside of the bars is a good thing,” one UGA student exclaimed. “They are just looking to make more arrests and they know we are easy targets.”
According to the WSB-TV article, police have the discretion to hand out a citation and avoid an arrest unless the subject is clearly intoxicated.
Police Sgt. Derick Scott had a different sentiment, “If the person in question is underage, we will always issue an arrest instead of a citation.”
This is troubling news for undergrads at UGA.
“A person who is issued a citation must attend a court hearing where they will have a punishment determined, but they are free to go after the citation is issued,” Scott said. “A person who is arrested is taken to the sheriff’s office for processing and must pay a bond.”
Many students that have gone through this process describe it as a tiring and complicated process.
“I was taken into custody and had to get a bond company to pay my bond,” one UGA student said. “After I was released I had to report to court, pay a $200 fine and attend probation classes.”
For those who wonder if money is the driving force behind the arrests, Sgt. Scott says that is not the case.
“The police department makes no surplus money on arrests, the money goes to the courthouse and the state,” Scott said. “Our only reason for arresting somebody is to get them off of the street and out of danger.”
While the police will not make money on arrests, there is no cost incurred on the department to arrest someone.
“When a person is arrested and sentenced to stay in jail for an extended period of time that is the only time it will cost money, but the state is responsible for that payment,” Scott said. “The police do not spend any money on arrests, but do not make any either.”
According to the WSB-TV article, there are an average of 20 arrests per week in Athens. Sgt. Scott believed that to be an accurate number.
“I would say that 20 is a good average,” Scott said. “Obviously on the weekends there are more people and more officers watching, but every Monday and Tuesday we make arrests.”
“The weekends are definitely a busier time, and that is when I go out the most,” Ruck said. “I’ve gone out early in the week before too and the police arrested someone on a Wednesday when there were very little people out.”
The ACCPD are assigned to protect those who decide to enjoy a night in downtown Athens, a job not many respect, but the police take pride in.
“We try to be good ambassadors and hosts for the city of Athens,” Stephens said. “If an individual is able to enjoy their night without criminal activity, and I don’t mean drinking a beer, we are more than happy to leave them in peace.”