Euharlee police work to strengthen community
by Amanda Ryker
Feb 03, 2012 | 3072 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Assistant Euharlee Police Chief Tony Baldwin enters one of the two new Dodge Charger patrol cars. The cars — which are yet to be marked and have equipment that includes computers installed — have eight cylinder engines, but when patrolling in town, only four cylinders are used allowing for an increase in fuel efficiency. The cars operate with a push-button start using a keyless sensor that must be on the officer to operate the vehicle. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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An increased police presence in small communities does not necessarily mean criminal activity is high. At least that's the mindset Euharlee's new chief has in his approach to the idea of officer involvement in the city.

"I just want to breed the confidence that the police department is doing their job," Chief Terry Harget said. "We need the community to help us do our job better."

Taking this concept and turning it into actions, Harget and the officers within his department are finding ways to be more involved in the community as citizens and officers while boosting the morale for everyone.

Among his plans to make this goal a reality, the Euharlee Police Department will be establishing neighborhood watch programs as well as a bingo night and visiting Euharlee Elementary and Woodland Middle schools to implement a program where the officers read to the students for one hour each week with two officers traveling to the schools each time.

"[The reading program] starts Feb. 14, and every week I want to have at least two officers in the school for an hour and the teachers can send us wherever they want us to be for up to an hour," Harget said, noting the importance of being a positive role model for students and teaching them not to fear police officers.

Offering another way to get involved during down time, the chief has offered the idea to the schools for officers to volunteer as umpires and coaches during athletic games.

"The guys said that's something they'd like to do and they're volunteering their time for it," Harget said. "And, if there's a police officer out there, maybe the parent's won't get into fights."

Another community-oriented event Harget wishes to establish is an Easter egg hunt.

"I want to have a big Easter egg hunt," Harget said. "It's fantastic and doesn't cost a lot. It's going to happen because it's fun and it's good for the community. Would you rather spend the gas to go somewhere else, or stay in town and enjoy a picnic by the river? The kids would love it just as much and it's more family time because there's less travel time."

While these changes are seen externally through the increased presence throughout the tight-knit area, he has been working to revamp the internal structure and functions of the department as well. Harget was sworn in earlier this year after replacing former chief Duane Smith, who retired in October.

"My philosophy in policing is: accountability breeds professionalism breeds success," Harget said. "Now, the guys are filling out run sheets where they mark their time and are held accountable for where they go and what they do. I tell them, 'It's to protect you.' If someone says you were doing this over here and I can verify by looking on the sheet and say yes or no, then I can say that person is wrong because you have here that you were at this place at that time. With no run sheet, I can't defute [that claim]."

Other ways Harget holds officers accountable for their duties is through assigning certain tasks to each officer as well as having the night shift perform business checks and the day shift to check in on senior citizens.

"The guys are doing business checks every night, and this is something where they leave a card in the door to let the business know they've checked it and shook the doors," Harget said. "But, it also allows me to go out the next day and collect [the cards] and talk to the businesses. I go out and follow up by talking to the citizens or school principals, and I tell [the officers] to challenge me and put a card in the door that I can't find or the principal can't find.

"We have senior checks during the day. I have found in this area that we have a lot of shut-ins and I'm not limiting that to the city," Harget continued. "[The officers] can go out of the city limits somewhat, especially for the people that live alone. All we do is once a week we go out, knock on the door and say, 'How are you doing? Is there anything you need?' If they need a light bulb changed, if we don't have a call, we'll change the light bulb or a furnace filter. Those kinds of things make the difference and it builds them supporting the police department."

To help him establish those connections with the businesses as well as his officers, Harget sets aside special time for individuals.

"I take two hours of my day and, for one hour, I go to the businesses and collect the cards," Harget said. "The other hour, I ride with an officer. You learn a lot from officers when you just ride with them."

Finding ways to make the department more efficient, Harget presented a request for new vehicles to the city council. Switching from the Ford Crown Victoria's, which are no longer in production, to eight cylinder Dodge Chargers, the city can anticipate a savings in fuel cost between 10 and 20 percent.

Continuing to increase efficiency, as well as better protect the officers, Harget ordered VidMics. A VidMic is a video-microphone combination that attaches to the portable radios officers carry and allows them to record video and audio at any point and that equipment moves with them as opposed to the stationary vehicle cameras that cannot follow suspects into wooded areas or enter domestic situations. One VidMic costs approximately $700 and a stationary vehicle camera costs approximately $7,000.

"These things record wherever [the officer's] at," Harget said, emphasizing that the portability of the camera, which also has infrared capabilities, allows officers to record every situation and those recordings can then be downloaded to a computer to assist in cases that may be taken to court.

To better cover the city with surveillance, Harget also has installed stationary deer cameras in hidden areas throughout the community.

"They're stationary cameras that snap a picture in motion," Harget said. "I can't put an officer out there 24/7, but I can put a deer camera out there 24/7."

In addition to a formal standard operating procedure and bi-weekly tests on the policies, the Euharlee PD will be joined by a K9 unit.

"We will see our K9 in three or four weeks," Harget said. "The handler is training him now and we have a spot for him here."

Yet, amongst all of the recent changes in the 30 days following Harget's induction, the main goal is to get everyone to cooperate and work together.

"The biggest challenge is getting everyone on the same page," Harget said, "from the historic society to the city council to the mayor to the city manager to all the businesses and citizens."