Q: Can you talk a little about what SCAD students can do to stay safe in Savannah?
A: Public safety is a shared responsibility, that’s the reality. We’re in a democratic society. I’ll take you back to Sir Robert Peel, the founder of modern policing in the 1800s in England, and he made the famous quote, “The police are the public, the public are the police.” We are merely that small group of people that do public safety full time, but it’s everybody’s responsibility.
One of the greatest problems we have with students is that they don’t exercise a modicum of common sense. It’s about, first of all, taking care of yourself, and then secondly, taking care of your stuff.
Taking care of yourself is a little bit of common sense about where you walk, when you walk there, when you ride your bike. For women it’s about who you date and get sloppy drunk with. Unfortunately we get a fair number of rapes that almost always alcohol is involved and excess drinking.
We get into some situations where if people used a little bit of common sense at the front end, they wouldn’t get there. This is a major metropolitan area like any other big city, that, unfortunately like every other major city in America, we have our crime. A little bit of common sense when you’re riding to and from classes, driving on lit streets where there are people, going in a group, just being thoughtful and aware of your surroundings is a huge piece of this, in terms of your personal safety.
In terms of your property, lock stuff up, lock your doors. I can’t tell you how many reports we take each year of very expensive laptops, computers and wallets left in cars in plain view. We get some burglary reports from SCAD students where they’re leaving thousands of dollars of computers and digital equipment and cameras in unlocked apartments. You can’t do that, you’re like saying, please, can I be a victim.
We try very hard to do our part, we’ve got crime prevention officers that will come out to anyone’s house and do a security survey and make recommendations about locks and windows.
We have more people on patrol than we’ve ever had in our history and we’re very oriented but again, we can only do so much.
We have a county of 460 square miles with somewhere around a daily population of 300,000 people, and we have 578 police officers deployed on the streets, total, that counts me. I think the challenge is for people to be aware and take some personal responsibility for their own safety and for their communities safety.
If you see things call us, call us, call us. We want to be called, we want to come in. There’s this great saying, ‘I don’t know what I don’t know.’ Don’t assume that I know about a problem or an issue.
Q: SCAD recently opened Abercorn Terrace near 61st St. What issues might a SCAD student face there?
A: That’s really part of Ardsley Park, it’s a very stable, safe neighborhood. But, again, you’re going to have to be mindful of your surroundings. Savannah is an incredibly integrated community. Integrated economically and integrated racially. Everywhere you live you will have a variety of people living around you, moving around you, it’s one of the joys of living here. We’re a very diverse society. They should not suddenly feel like, “oh, I live in the suburbs.” They live in an urban area, and if you leave things unattended you’ll have problems.
We don’t have a lot of reported crime in that area. One thing that SCAD students, like anybody else in the public can do— all of our crime data is totally transparent, it’s all out on the Web— you can go to our Web site, scmpd.org, and we have on there interactive crime maps. You can put any address in, and a date range, and you can see any crimes that occurred within a mile, or three miles of your residence. That’s updated every two hours. You can log on and get a pretty good picture of what the crime issues are in any location.
I would say that, what issues there are, they’re probably going to be pretty low level, they’re going to be property crime issues.
Q: SCAD’s freshmen class for this year is the biggest ever; with them will come more bikes and pedestrians. Can you talk a little about bicycle laws the new students may not be familiar with?
A: There are laws about bikes and I get regular complaints about SCAD students violating those laws, we do some enforcement but it’s not a big thing for us, frankly, again it goes back to the same theme about responsibility. If you ride through the squares like a wild person you’re going to get stopped and you can get a cite.
There are requirements about lights at night. You’re supposed to stop at the stop signs, you’re supposed to stop at the lights when you’re riding in the roadway; particularly when you get to the historic core.
When you hit Liberty Street, you’re introducing cars, trolleys, horses, bikes and lots of pedestrians, all we ask is for anybody who is riding, SCAD student or otherwise, to be mindful, of again, that they are not alone on the roadway, the roadway has to be shared, and particularly in a city like ours where the streets were built hundreds of years ago for horses and buggies and not for cars buses and trolleys, motor coaches, etc.
So I think the answer is, there are absolutely bicycle laws. They’re basically the same as they are everywhere else in the United States. They require a certain following of the rules of the road if you will, and again, it’s common sense.
We are not an enforcement heavy organization. That’s not our relationship with our public. We communicate, we educate, we ask the public to comply, there are occasionally times where we get engaged.
We recently did two and a half days of ticketing on jaywalking. Before we did that we went out and did a whole education campaign, we did a lot of briefing, we did two days of warnings, and then we wrote, I think about, 40 tickets to drivers who weren’t yielding to pedestrians in the crosswalk, and we wrote about 170 to 180 tickets to pedestrians that weren’t crossing at a crosswalk. There’s plenty of crosswalks around, don’t use the mid-block crossing, walk to the corner, wait for the light to change and cross the street.
The police department defines [a crosswalk] the way the vehicle code does, where there are markings on the street.
Q: From a policeman’s standpoint, what do you think of the SCAD campus?
A: It’s a huge benefit for the city overall, because the students are really integrated into the overall life of the city. So that’s great. You know they’re scattered around. It provides tenants, so it’s improved the housing, the campus facilities are all over. You’ve got the new building down next to the Bull Street Library. That’s wonderful. There’s a building that was vacant and now it’s full of life. It causes some problems with parking and things like that but I love that, as opposed to having a fixed campus narrowly defined with a perimeter fence or something like that.
I think it’s wonderful, it’s good for the community and I think it’s great for the students because they’re not living in a cloistered environment. They are really living much closer to real life.
I’ve been to urban schools, my master’s is from Johns-Hopkins, which has a very urban campus, it’s not this nice contained campus. Syracuse, on the other hand, where I went to law school, is much more of “here is the campus.” Now there’s certainly some stuff off campus, but it’s much more defined.
It’s a different feel. SCAD is very much woven into the fabric of the community, and so the flip side of that is the students have to be aware they’re not cloistered off at some secluded perimeter-controlled place. You’re moving about the community the same as any other citizen is. I love having the students around, I think it’s great.
You can’t compare Savannah State University to the SCAD issues. Savannah State University is a totally fenced access controlled facility. If I want to drive onto the Savannah State Campus in uniform I have to stop at a gate and check in.
There’s no place in SCAD that I have to stop and check in besides Boundary Street when I go in the dorms, that’s it. That’s the only SCAD facility I’m aware of where you have any kind of perimeter control. So I don’t think you can compare a campus that is just completely part of the urban fabric and a campus that is walled off and controlled and all of the facilities are controlled and who lives there is controlled.
Here I have SCAD students living next door to boarding houses. It’s a whole different feel. Armstrong is a little bit of both, they are, first of all, they’re out of the heart of downtown and they tend to have a much more defined campus. You pretty much have to drive to get there. They do have some limited houses on campus but a lot of their students are commuters from somewhere else by car.
Whereas SCAD it’s bike, it’s the SCAD buses, it’s walking, it’s some cars, as my traffic problems at Arnold Hall will attest to, but I think, crime does get covered here, crime does occur here, generally SCAD students are not victimized, particularly if they use a little bit of common sense, and a lot of the SCAD students live in what I would call transitional neighborhoods. They’re living in neighborhoods that five years ago contained boarded up houses and derelict property and today those houses have been renovated. So there’s a mix, they’re scattered throughout our community. And I think the issues that happen to SCAD students reflect real life.
Now, we have some SCAD students who get victimized by going out and trying to buy drugs. Be honest, let’s not pull punches, a college student or two has been known to buy drugs on occasion, and sometimes they become the victims of crime when they wander into difficult challenged neighborhoods and try to buy drugs.
And, so I’ll get a call from a pastor, for example, off Louisville Road who’ll say “Hey, I got the SCAD kids parking their cars over here on one of the side streets and walking out to the dope house on the corner.” That’s like a recipe for disaster.
Q: You’re leaving to start a new division at Altegrity. Can you talk a little about what you’ll do there and what draws you to that?
A: One’s personal, one’s professional. The personal part is, I’ve been here for three years and my 13 year old son has been in California for three years, so I’ve seen him not enough. I’m dealing with his crises by e-mail and with Skype.
Technology doesn’t make up for that kind of interaction and if I stayed here another two years he’d be 16, and he’s gone, he’s heading for college around the corner. I still have a chance to have more of a relationship with him, so part of it is that, on the personal side I can be based in California at least three or four days of the week.
The other piece is Altegrity is run by two people that I respect very much, Mike Cherkasky, he’s a former federal prosecutor and state prosecutor, phenomenal guy, and Bill Bratton who has been one of my mentors in policing.
Chief Braton is the only chief in history, to my knowledge, to be chief of the Boston Police Department, the New York City Police Department, and the Los Angeles Police Department. And I was privileged to serve as his deputy chief at the LAPD. I’ll be working with him again at Altegrity.
It’s a personal piece, it’s a professional piece, and some of the work that we’re going to be doing I was very fortunate in the early 90′s, I speak French, I’m a lawyer and I was loaned to the State Department in 1993 to go to Haiti to create the first ever civilian police force. I spent about three years traveling the world doing international policing: Haiti, Somalia, El Salvador, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Jamaica and the Caribbean. I found it incredibly rewarding to work in very difficult countries where the police have frequently been the source of oppression, not a protector. So I was very interested in the opportunity to start doing that again, and Altegrity does a lot of that international work.
Q: What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment here, and do you know who might replace you in the interim?
A: I think that’s a discussion that’s being held, I think, frankly, on the interim front, my belief is that the interim should be a person that’s not a candidate for the job.
I think that interim positions should be held by people who use that time to assess the department and make difficult choices if need be to deal with those kids of issues and not use your interim time as a vehicle to get the job. So that’s my position on the interim. I have no idea who’ll be my ultimate replacement. I hope I’m involved in that, and I think I will be. I have some strong feelings about that.
I think that this is a very complex policing environment, city, county, unincorporated area. The diversity of the community is incredible, I believe that it is not a first chief’s job. When I came here I’d been a chief already for 12 years, something like that, so I had already been a chief in three different cities and a deputy chief in the Los Angeles Police Department.
That experience prepares you for this kind of complexity. Had this been my first chief”s job right out of the box, I don’t think it would have gone so well. It’s a very demanding community and it’s a very complex community. It’s a beautiful community, I love it, but make no mistake about it, they have very high expectations and they want a lot done.
Q: Is there anything else?
A: We’ve suggested some interesting partnerships to the SCAD leadership. We’ve suggested some safe corridors, for example we know we’ve got students moving from Boundary Street up to Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. pretty much, not quite 24 hours a day, but say 20 hours a day, going up to Montgomery and some of the other buildings on MLK.
You’ve got the dorms on the other side of Victory Drive, you’ve got the buildings on Montgomery Street then the dorms that back up to it on Barnard Street. What would be the safe corridor that we would create for students to go up and down the street?
I’ve talked with SCAD leadership about creating, perhaps, Kobans, which are Japanese fixed posts with security people. We’ve approached them with a number of ideas about how to increase the safety on certain pathways and routes.
Q: What would a safe corridor entail?
A: It could entail a series of cameras, for example, maybe we say Barnard Street is the safe corridor. We put cameras that cover all of Barnard Street so that any student, if they’re going from the buildings on Montgomery Street and they cut over to Barnard and they go up Barnard, it may be a Koban, which is a small police building, and you put a security person there.
SCAD has a large security force, most of which is mobile. Some of it’s fixed position, but a lot of it is in cars. One of the things I’ve suggested is sort of a partnership where we put a Koban up with a direct telephone link into dispatch, and a radio link, and some cameras and put somebody in a booth 24 hours a day, sitting in a particular location, and then the students know there is always somebody whose got an eye on them, who they can go to for safety.
So we’re talking about it, having that discussion. They’ve been interested in that idea. I did a full presentation to their leadership team and they’re working on that.
Contact Travis Walters