Crime suppression unit will address Griffin gangs, violent crime

SHEILA A. MATHEWS :::

The Griffin Police Department is in the process of organizing a specialized crime suppression unit that will work to curb the city’s gang activity and violent crime.

Chief Steve Heaton, who took office in April 2014, has since last year stated he wanted to establish such a unit, but personnel shortages have prevented him from doing so.

“What we’ve done, because of the problems we’ve had with our gangs and shootings over the past few months, is try to move that forward,” Heaton said. “Obviously, we have a need for it – the crime suppression unit, or Power Squad, which is what we’ll call it – but with the manpower shortages, we haven’t had the people to do it. We’re starting to see some improvement in it now, though. I’ve been able to hire some people.”

Heaton explained that several factors make this a good time to implement the changes necessary for formation of the Power Squad.

“In addition to the need, it’s good timing,” he said of the future unit that will include four or five officers.

The Police Department is currently in the process of promoting officers in some ranks, as well as selecting officers for positions in the Criminal Investigation Division.

“We opened interviews for openings in CID and the crime suppression unit. As a result of that, we’ll be moving some folks around. We’re going to sit down after the 12th and make those final decisions,” he said.

Heaton said this will be the first promotional process at the Police Department in four years.

“It’s certainly been a long time coming,” he said. “This time, I’ve made changes where folks are actually coming in and appearing before an interview panel, and we’ve already held the panels for the Power Squad and CID.”

Heaton said the interview panels were comprised of existing personnel that has prior experience in the positions being filled.

“I think it needs to be an internal panel from people who’ve worked in those fields before,” he said.

The promotional process has also been revised under Heaton’s leadership, with candidates now being interviewed before a panel comprised of both internal and external law enforcement officers.

“I’ve met a lot of good people over the course of my 34-year career that I trust to help me make a good decision. They’re going to help me build an organization that they’d be comfortable leading,” he said.

The promotional panel will include Heaton and a GPD officer currently holding the rank in which there is an opening.

Outside panelists will include the police chiefs of the cities of LaGrange and Hogansville and the Georgia State University Police Department. Once the promotional and Power Squad assignments have been determined, interdepartmental transfers will be made at one time.

“That way, we’ll be disrupting the department one time and everyone will know where they’ll be assigned,” Heaton said.

He said the formation of the Power Squad will be part of a multi-departmental approach to address the issue of gangs and violent crime.

Code Enforcement will play a role, he said, by continuing its efforts to eradicate dilapidated housing as the Power Squad saturates areas determined to be at the highest risk.

By improving neighborhood conditions and utilizing law enforcement measures that will include the enforcement of the gang act, Heaton said he is hopeful local gang activities and the number of violent crimes, including shootings, will diminish.

“”Crime and negative quality of life issues – all these things are going to be present in those areas,” Heaton said. We’re going to focus on these areas, go back and evaluate what we’ve done. If we’re successful, we’ll apply those techniques to other areas of the city. If we aren’t, we’ll evaluate and determine what we need to do differently,” he said.

The Police Department is also moving forward in its efforts to create a liaison with the FBI Violent Crime Task Force.

“We’ve met with them twice now, the second time being last Monday (March 2).

“Piece by piece, we’re going to take back this city,” Heaton said.

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