by Terrance Kelly
At DeKalb County’s recent Crime Prevention Workshop, few topics seemed off-limits, including child sexual abuse, gangs and teen violence, help for victims of domestic violence, community policing, abandonment and child support, and even loud music, sidewalks and streetlights.
Representatives from the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office, the DeKalb County Solicitor General’s Office, the DeKalb County Police Department Gang Unit, the South Precinct Interactive Community Policing Unit, DeKalb County Code Enforcement and Juvenile Court Judge Desiree Peagler were on hand at the workshop at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia to discuss ways to fight crime.
DeKalb Solicitor-General Robert D. James commented on the success of current programs designed to use education to combat crime. Project Perfect Attendance is an anti-truancy and educational neglect program. Jobs Not Jails, a pilot program, allows adult first-time offenders an opportunity to start life anew through job readiness and a chance to attend DeKalb Technical College for free.
“If there’s crime in our community, it’s because we allow it. If our kids are not going to school, it’s because we’re not forcing them to go. If we keep students in school, we keep them out of jail,” James said, noting reports of children in DeKalb County schools missing as much as a year of school. “Many single parents drop kids off at school, and the child goes the other way when the parents leave,” he said.
He said that Project Perfect Attendance has resulted in 750 more elementary students attending school regularly, and more than 1,000 more high school students attending regularly.
Of the Jobs Not Jails program, James said, “Those who complete the program get job placement. By successfully completing all phases of Jobs Not Jails, their cases are dismissed and their records expunged. That’s how you stop recidivism, and that’s what we’re doing in DeKalb County.”
Touting Georgia’s largest inmate GED program with more than 2,300 graduates, DeKalb County Sheriff Thomas Brown noted some new services to improve efficiency at the county jail.
“Through the jail’s Web site, you can now check for sex offenders registered for DeKalb County,” he explained. “You can also check the status of a case, and look to see if someone has been arrested.” VINE: Victim Information & Notification Everyday (1-800-398-2916) will give you custody information using a touch-tone phone.
“The first thing you have to do to prevent crime in your community is to get information,” DeKalb County Commissioner Lee May said. “When you leave the workshop, you have to apply the information to better your community.”
May explained that the commissioners approve money to fund programs and services for the various county offices. “That’s why we have to really understand what they do and what their needs are,” he continued. “We need to hear from [county personnel and residents] so we can make better decisions about where to appropriate funds or address service needs.”
Noting the far-reaching effects of crime and a recent killing in his neighborhood, May said, “That crime didn’t just affect the family, the entire community has been affected.”
A safe DeKalb is a main objective of the Crime Prevention Workshop, and there was no shortage of support from county leaders.
William Miller, DeKalb public safety director, assured, “You have a total commitment, from the CEO, the sheriff, to the detention officers in the jails. There will be no [smoked] glass, no changing of numbers. If you don’t feel safe in DeKalb County, call me at (770) 724-7899. Tell me what makes you feel unsafe, and I’ll ask you what we can do to make you feel safer.”