Lee crime rate grows with population - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Lee crime rate grows with population

May 22, 2007

Leesburg  --  Lee County Sheriff's deputies handle an average of 23 cases a day.  Last week, 180 arraignments were on the court calendar.  The Sheriff's office wants more workers, but with commissioners determined not to raise taxes, there's no money to hire new deputies.

Businesses like Doublegate EE-ZY Mart could be a target for thieves if it weren't for active sheriff patrols. "They're patrolling the area and they're not just sitting somewhere. They come out and check on us often and I'm sure if homeowners needed them they'd be there just as quick," said owner Marilyn Bullington.

Just like Lee County's population, the crime rate is growing. Thefts and armed robberies are up. Just ask court personnel.

"The court workload, case load even in Superior Court, this court, Magistrate Court has increased dramatically over the past four to five years and we see a steady increase in not only from a criminal standpoint but as well as a civil part of the court's business," said Lee County Judge John Wheaton.

The Sheriff's office asked for an additional Investigator, two additional court personnel, and two dispatchers and the Sheriff says that request was conservative for what's needed.

 "Sure we're short, but we didn't get anything last year and didn't get much the year before that so I've just got a good department and I've just got to have them step up a little bit more if we don't get it," said Lee County Sheriff Harold Breeden.   

It's forced the Sheriff to pull deputies from the street on heavy court days. "When we're having arraignments and stuff like that, we're having to pull deputies off the street to work the courthouse and that takes them off the street," said Breeden. 

Where they're needed the most, but Breeden said that's what will be done until his office and others get the resources they need.

In 2006, Lee County Sheriff deputies also handled two murder investigations, something they call uncommon.

Breeden says 24 hour patrols are necessary to keep up with the county's growing crime rate.

Breeden believes the visibility of patrol cars in subdivisions may deter criminals and allows deputies to quickly respond when crimes occur. He's concerned about what may happen if he has to stop those patrols during the day to handle court assignments. "I hate to pull them off the street out here you know not protecting the citizens to run court."

Many County Sheriff's offices patrol 24 hours. Terrell County Sheriff John Bowens said even though they're short three deputies, they're still running 24 hour patrols. Worth County Sheriff Freddie Tompkins called 24 hour patrols "a necessity."

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