The Phantom Rescue Team shuts down patrols - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

The Phantom Rescue Team shuts down patrols

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By Wainwright Jeffers - bio | email

December 30, 2008

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - A group of Albany citizens got together to try to reduce crime in the community.

The Phantom Rescue Team started patrolling businesses and trying to help at-risk youth, last week, the patrolling stopped.

County officials cited the team for operating without a business license, and the volunteer crime fighters are upset.

On December 23rd, Dougherty County Police issued four citations against the organizer and shut down his patrols.

It's been almost a year since a group of volunteers started patrolling the streets of Albany and calling police when they saw crimes in progress.

"We decided to come forward we decided to help," said Joe Sierra, Phantom Rescue Team.

But county officials say the way they're doing it is wrong. They issued citations for Joe Sierra to appear in court for not having a business or security license and other violations.

Sierra said when the organization started everything was ok. "We had our vehicles inspected, all the officers said you're good, your vehicle is good your uniform is fine, you're not breaking any laws," said Chief Don Cheek, Dougherty Co. Police Dept.

But County police Chief Don Cheek says they operated like a business, asking for money in return for services. "Program B we will escort business owners to and from their vehicles in the evening, a $100 monthly donation for each business," said Cheek

Organizers say the requested donations simply helped cover operational costs.

"You have expenses, you have fuel, we were able to purchase radios, we were handling the east side and the west side," said Sierra.

"When they provide you a sheet that provide different options for services, they're doing business." Chief Cheek said the department also got complaints from county citizens about PRT.

"When they start putting on uniforms putting on badges, driving police type vehicles, you've gone beyond being a neighborhood volunteer group," said Cheek.

"We're not Al Capone that's not something we did, it's not like you're not going to get any protection unless you pay us," said Sierra.

Sierra contends his organization is being unfairly targeted for simply trying to help. "My information was there was a private meeting between APD and the County, and next thing I know is that I'm the bad guy and they need to hang me."

PRT had grown to patrolling 50 plus businesses.

Another concern of law enforcement was that some members patrolling were also carrying firearms.

The chief says they didn't have the proper permits to carry weapons for the kind of operation they were running.

Ben Sierra said he will try to fight for his volunteer organization to remain just that, because he's not running a security operation. But right now he has no legal representation.

Chief Cheek says if Phantom Rescue Team gets all of the required licenses and permits, he has no problem with them operating in the county.

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