Off-duty cops to patrol Gwinnett Village

LILBURN - Off-duty officers would augment police enforcement in the southwest part of Gwinnett County under a plan set to be approved today.

The targeted enforcement zone in the Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District would provide between five and 10 additional police officers to the district, which has a violent crime rate six times higher than the rest of the county.

Chuck Warbington, the CID's executive director, likened the targeted zone to an overlay district that sets particular standards for development. The Gwinnett County Police Department's West Side Precinct and its zones will remain intact, he said, but if an intergovernmental agreement in front of the county's Board of Commissioners passes tonight, off-duty officers will begin to patrol the parts of the CID in unincorporated Gwinnett.

"It's a layer of extra policing," Warbington said. "It will be an extra layer of enforcement in this area above and beyond what's already there."

Gwinnett Village suffers from the perception that crime is bad, Warbington said. And although a November study showed that a third of the county's robberies, a quarter of its aggravated assaults and car thefts, a third of Gwinnett's drug distribution and nearly half of its prostitution and sex crimes took place in the Village, numbers also show that crime is going down.

By locating the county's Quality of Life unit in the CID, increasing police presence through additional officers at the West Side Precinct, where staff has been increased from 72 officers to 85 and 105 are funded, and the use of off-duty officers, Warbington said the impact on crime should be noticeable.

"If you couple those three things together, you're going to see a major impact," he said.

Details such as how many officers would patrol the zone and what hours they would work are still being worked out, Warbington said. The CID would pay each officer $45 an hour, which would include overtime pay and a contribution to the officer's pension plan.

Gwinnett County would maintain liability for the officers and be responsible for worker's compensation, Warbington said. Cpl. Darren Moloney, spokesman for the Gwinnett County Police Department, said Chief Charles Walters was out of the office Monday and would not be available until today.

While Warbington said crime statistics might increase at first as more officers made arrests and people felt comfortable calling the police, they would decrease as officers continued to patrol the area.

The idea was originally conceived as a dedicated police force called the Village Blue. A community ambassador program of that name may still be implemented, Warbington said.

Brett Harrell, the executive director of the Evermore Community Improvement District, said he has been paying between six and eight officers $35 an hour since 2003 to patrol that area.

Officers have found businesses with unlocked doors and in one case, arrested two people who had a stolen gun and masks in their car.

"They're preventing potential crime, absolutely, I mean, real crime," he said. "We've been very pleased."

The officers in Gwinnett Village will go to 911 calls if there is no one else to answer them, but will primarily be patrolling the CID and being proactive - something the short-staffed precinct often has trouble doing, Warbington said.

"The county likes having a targeted force in a revitalization area," he said. "The security and visibility of the police goes hand-in-hand with the revitalization effort."

The Village CID has $475,000 to spend on the program. Harrell said he spends $75,000 annually.

Additional patrols should begin in mid to late May, and will definitely take place on the weekends, Warbington said. Maj. Brett West of the West Side Precinct will oversee the officers, who will patrol in county vehicles and maintain full arrest powers.

Warbington said if the venture with the county is successful, he hopes to expand the off-duty force to include Norcross officers as well.