More than 80 residents of Rockaway Creek Road, Forest Hills Drive, Grubbs Street and the surrounding area gathered Monday evening (March 20) at David’s Catfish House to discuss the recent rash of burglaries that have plagued the area.
“We’re here tonight to put to bed some of the rumors we’ve been hearing and to let you know what we plan to do to keep crime down in our neighborhood,” said Mike Stacey, who coordinated the meeting. “I know that crime is everywhere, but when it happens to you, you kind of take it personal. We’re trying to figure out what we can do to help ourselves.”
Along with the affected residents, the meeting was attended by Mayor Jim Staff, Police Chief Chuck Brooks and all five members of the city council.
Staff spoke briefly, noting the size of the gathering and commenting on how it should help residents better understand what is being done to catch the person or persons responsible for the crimes.
“I really think this is needed to calm the neighborhood and understand that some of the things going on out there are really rumors,” the mayor said. “If you have any questions or solutions, anything on your mind, I’d like to hear it. And I’m proud to see such a turnout. I really appreciate it that you came out tonight.”
Brooks informed the concerned residents that progress is being made in the investigation of the residential break-ins, although he held his cards relatively close to his chest.
“Around the end of February, we had a rash of burglaries, primarily in Zone 3, the area where most of you may live,” he said. “Because of the method of how the individual burglaries occurred, we have established a good lead on who is possibly doing this. We’re in the process of having subpoenas issued for certain items of importance, items that will place these individuals in the Atmore area around the time of the burglaries.”
He warned the victims and those who live around them to not expect overnight success in the effort by police to solve the crimes, unlike what they might have seen in various television shows.
“I wish it could be like NCIS, where we could get the information very quickly and solve your case within 15 minutes, but I’m sorry, that just doesn’t happen,” he said. “It could be months before we get the information back.”
The police chief, a native and lifelong resident of Atmore, indicated that police have a good idea who might be responsible for most, if not all, the break-ins that occurred in the area heavily represented at the meeting.
“We know that witnesses saw a certain type of vehicle,” he explained. “We think we have been able to identify this vehicle, and we think there are two individuals involved. That’s kind of where we are on the case. We do know that one of the individuals is wanted and is on the run. Hopefully we can get them incarcerated and tie all this stuff together.”
Most of the rumors addressed by the mayor and police chief centered on reports that in some instances police have refused to respond to reports of suspicious activity. Both city officials called the rumors unfounded.
Brooks said he now has officers and investigators patrolling the city, including Zone 3, in unmarked cars, looking for suspicious vehicles or individuals. When asked what the residents could do to help, he didn’t hesitate.
“Watch out for your neighbors; if you see anything suspicious, call us,” he said. “There are simple things you can do, like secure your vehicles when you get out of them. If you have four-wheelers, Gators, golf carts, things like that, please secure them. If I can see them from the road, a criminal can see them from the road.”
Bill Wasden, an attorney who moved to Atmore from Mobile due to the crime in his neighborhood there, encouraged residents to purchase security systems or security cameras in order to stem the flood of crime. He used one of television’s best known small towns to describe the current situation here.
“Mayberry has been hit with a rash (of crime), and it’s not just the folks from Mt. Pilot,” he said, adding that each of those in attendance should “be a good set of neighborly eyes and ears, be alert to what’s going on in the community.”
Just before the meeting ended, a woman asked Brooks how much trouble she would bring on herself if she were to use a weapon to protect her home.
The police chief cited Alabama law that gives homeowners and home occupants the right to defend themselves from bodily harm.
“Plain and simple, if you feel your life is in jeopardy, you can use deadly force,” he said. “But the next thing, after you pull the trigger, please call 911 because we have to try and get (the injured intruder) medically treated if we can.”
He noted that most law enforcement officers who are shot, are shot with their own service weapons and warned each person to “be mindful of that if you are not proficient with a pistol.” He then reinforced the fact that the law is on the side of the person whose safety or home is being threatened.
“If you feel like your life is in danger, do what you have to do. I’m not telling you to shoot somebody, but I’ll tell you what Chuck is going to do,” he said as he patted the pistol on his hip.
Stacey, who encouraged someone to take the lead in forming a formal Neighborhood Watch program, said attendance at the meeting was an encouraging sign.
“I think this kind of consensus is going to have some shelf life,” he said.
Anyone interested in being part of such an organization in the Rockaway Creek Road / Forest Hills Drive / Grubbs Street area is encouraged to contact Tammy Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.