New initiative could drastically reduce Aiken crime

By: Chad Mills Email
By: Chad Mills Email

News 12 First at Five / Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012

AIKEN, S.C. -- There's no doubt it's been a tough year for people in Aiken.

"It's not new news that in 2011, we had two officers killed, and we had a spike in our violent crimes and murders," said Sgt. Jake Mahoney.

That's why Chief Charles Barranco is seeking change. And in Odell-Weeks Thursday afternoon, change arrived.

Men and women from the High Point Police Department in North Carolina came to share how they do things. The department has the textbook example of community policing -- officers wear the guns and the badges, but the community plays an important role, too.

"We had a full house, strong support from the community, local leaders, local organizations. This is chapter one. I think we're off to a great start," Mahoney said.

In 2003, the city near Greensboro, N.C., was jokingly called "Little Chicago" because crime was so high. But Chief Marty Sumner and the whole community found a way to change things.

"The High Point Intervention really is a philosophy. It's not a special project that lasts for a week or two or a year or two," said Maj. Larry Casterline with the High Point Police Department.

In the High Point Intervention, chronic offenders are brought in front of a panel of community members, ex-cons and even family members. They're told they have to stop and that the community does care about them.

The ultimatum is that if they don't stop, they're going to jail.

"Since about 1990, our population's gone from 70-75,000 to 107,000 people, and our violent crime index has reduced 57 percent," Casterline said.

Sumner told Aiken residents that they focus on problem areas only -- and the facts don't lie. He says it's only a small number of people committing the majority of crimes, and ultimately, the amount of arrests will go down.

They've shared their strategy all around the country, and now, it's Aiken's turn.

"We feel good about it working here. We really do," Casterline said.

The Aiken Department of Public Safety has really increased community policing efforts within this past year. There are bike patrols and neighborhood watches in places like Crosland Park.

Some say community policing is soft on crime, but High Point officers say that's not the case. They say it's actually tougher on crime and that they actually prevent crimes from happening in the first place.

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