October 02, 2012I wasn't arrested, or detained or even renditioned when I spent an afternoon in a police car. I was a guest, thank you.
The guys and gals of our local police forces are highly trained officers of the peace, rarely the Keystone Cops we often see in the movies.
I spent my afternoon with Officer Terry Joyner driving around the North Point Mall area. Joyner himself is an interesting character – former Roswell police chief and city council member who works with Alpharetta Public Safety. Right now, his passion is getting people to stop leaving their valuables in cars.
I get his frustration. Every week, I look at crime reports that have dozens of cases of "entering autos." This is cop code for any time someone breaks into your car. All the time, these are cases of people jogging on the Greenways, or at parks or especially eating lunch and dinner, and leaving their purse, wallet, laptop, phone, what have you, lying in plain sight in the car. Unattended. Sometimes, the doors are left unlocked. I can just shake my head.
Several times a week, Joyner makes his lunchtime pilgrimage from Alpharetta HQ to the mall area, like so many business people in the area. Unlike them, however, he makes his way through all the parking lots, keeping an eye peeled not just for suspicious activity, but also areas of concern. He makes the rounds so frequently, he has begun to recognize some of the vehicles – this car belongs to an employee, that car to a regular customer, this one looks suspicious, but it's not. And so on. We traveled from Mansell Road in the south to Haynes Bridge Road in the north and everywhere in between. I've covered Alpharetta for five years now, and we went to areas of the city I didn't even know existed.
But I started thinking to myself, if I were a criminal, what should I look out for? Where would I commit a crime? How would I do it? Do I care if I'm caught on a surveillance camera? What should I look out for?
In the lot of one popular restaurant, we came across a nice, shiny new car. Unoccupied, it had all its windows rolled down. For Joyner, that's a serious red flag.
He got out of his cruiser and took a look. I think he was relieved he didn't find anything inside – no phone, laptop or anything else. It was just a warm day and the driver didn't want his car to get too hot while he was inside getting food.
But Joyner said there are too many people who think their vehicle is some sort of safe – that once those doors are locked, it's impenetrable. Unfortunately, thieves know otherwise, what with the glass windows and all.
It only takes a second to smash a window, another to grab an item on a seat and two more to dash into a waiting car and hop onto Ga. 400 never to be seen again. It's a crime that happens all too often and is wholly preventable.
My ride was largely uneventful (which may be a blessing, I'm not sure). I joked with Joyner that he had turned down the radio or switched to a different frequency so I wouldn't hear all the crimes in Alpharetta and Milton, there were just so few. And he admitted it was a bit of a dull day. The only highlight was really telling a panhandler to shoo along. He more or less said "yes, officer," and went on his way. "Cops," this was not.
But if I'm a police officer – or anyone really – that's what I want. I want no crime. It shows something good is going on. The criminals and their violence go elsewhere.