Tough on Crime
Special Unit C.S.T.
Not many towns in Georgia have the interagency cooperation necessary to form a multi-agency task force unit dedicated to fighting drug related crimes with a focus on street crimes and gangs - the areas of crime in which the most violent and felonious assaults occur. Fortunately for Statesboro and Bulloch County, area law enforcement leaders had the vision to create a special unit of officers dedicated to enforcement, investigation, and community engagement, Bulloch County’s Crime Suppression Team (C.S.T.). These officers have a record of lowering crime rates that proves they have what it takes to be tough on crime.
The three area law enforcement agencies make up the members of the C.S.T. are the Statesboro Police Department, Georgia Southern’s Public Safety Department, and the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Department.
In 2014, law enforcement leaders noticed that each agency was handling some of the same functions and investigations. There was a lot of cross-over on some cases. The Crime Suppression Unit at the Statesboro Police Department, the Drug Suppression Team and the Sheriff’s Targeted Enforcement Patrol Team at the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office had overlapping missions.
“After seeing the crossover, it was proposed to combine resources to form one large team,” stated Interim Police Chief Robert Bryan. “This benefitted everyone in two ways: the larger combined unit would have a greater body of resources, and the liaisons between agencies opened up communication across the board.”
In 2008, Deputy Chief Bryan, who has been with the police department for 18 years, wrote a federal grant for equipment to be used in the SPD’s Crime Suppression Unit. “There was little additional investment,” he stated. “When the C.S.T. was created, we merged the separate programs and transferred a lot of the equipment at no additional cost.” When the Police Department’s Crime Suppression Unit came into existence, Deputy Chief Bryan was the first Bureau Commander. He was open to the merger because he could see the benefits of combined resources for everyone.
Sheriff Lynn Anderson said, “At the Sheriff’s Department we already had a Drug Suppression Team and a S.T.E.P. unit. Jared [Akins] and Scott [Brunson] approached me about combining the units. We had a Drug Suppression Team in the 1990s that had members from all three units, but it went away. I remember it being very effective, so we decided to do it again.”
“The whole purpose is to be proactive and address problems in specific areas of the County or address one set of issues, like street robberies,” said Chief Deputy of the Sheriff’s Office Jared Akins. “Instead of one agency using limited resources, we can put 14 guys into helping with those kinds of cases.”
All departments agree that a lot of what they have dealt with centers on drug activity.
Officers are trained especially for the unit and are recommended by their respective department heads for service in the C.S.T. They are assessed for being mentally and physically tough enough to accept the challenges that come with being a part of the unit. All the officers train together and spend many hours away from home and families. Plus, the officers are constantly on call for the bigger crimes to which everyone responds.
Special equipment is employed to help fight the battle on crime. The C.S.T. uses cameras, hidden cameras, unmarked vehicles, specialized radio equipment, and two drug-sniffing canines: Max and Gismo, to get the job done. Max is trained to located drugs, while Gismo is specially trained to locate missing persons, bodies, stolen items, and drugs.
Not all of the officers work undercover, some are visible to assist with interacting with the community. “Citizen Contact” is a goal of the unit to keep the community informed about possible crime trends, and to just let community members know that the unit is hard at work for them. The C.S.T. visits area schools to do walk-throughs, too. “The kids love it,” said Akins. “Especially the canines.”
Crime statistics show a positive trend since the unit was formed. (See Sidebar) Convictions for burglaries, drug sales, and homicides are down. “The word on the street is ‘Don’t do it in Bulloch County,’ and that’s the way we want to keep it. If the word is out that you get arrested in Bulloch County if you commit a crime, that’s good,” said Akins.
The unit is led by Captain Jason Kearney of the Sheriff’s Department. Two members are from the Georgia Southern Department of Public Safety, four members are from the Statesboro Police Department, and eight members are from the Bulloch County Sheriff’s office. (See Sidebar). The unit gets administrative support from Office Manager Denise Burnsed. “We wouldn’t have a unit without Denise,” said Kearney. “She keeps everyone on track.”
The C.S.T. also gets great support from the District Attorney’s Office. Assistant D.A. Barclay Black works with the team on all cases. His dedication to the C.S.T. unit is also key in that with increased arrests, the caseloads in Superior and State Court are increased. “He is always on call,” stated Akins. Black is successful in getting the cases dispensed and in his conviction rate, which was 95.4% in 2015.
The biggest challenge the officers face is keeping up with trends in crime that change each year. “It’s not always the same drugs coming through,” said Captain Kearney. “Trends change. It’s not always the same methods of operation.”
Currently the C.S.T. is seeing an increase in gang activity in the area. “Many of the crimes being committed are being done by non-residents of Bulloch County,” said Kearney. “The drug work never ends and it connects with so many other crimes.”
“We also keep a check on people on parole and probation. We’re on top of that, too,” he said. “Especially the recidivists, the people who commit the same offenses over and over. It’s better to get them off the street.” With shorter and shorter sentences being imposed because of jail over-crowding, keeping tabs on repeat offenders has become an important aspect of law enforcement, and the C.S.T. has it covered.
“I’ve worked in law enforcement for 20 years and it shocks even me to see what this unit has been able to accomplish over the last several years. I am extremely proud of each and every investigator in this office. The law enforcement officers that are assigned to C.S.T. are truly dedicated to keeping this community from becoming like so many other communities where criminals have literally taken over. There are towns close by that you hear about a robbery or a shooting just about every day on the news, we will not allow that to happen here,” said Captain Kearney.
The commitment and dedication of the C.S.T. has a positive impact on the residents of Bulloch County and students residents in keeping crime at bay. The cooperation between the separate law enforcement agencies in creating a bonded unit dedicated to stopping crime has opened channels of communication that help making arrests and solving cases a much more efficient process for all involved.
Akins added, “Everybody works together no matter where the bad guys are.”