With the sounds of skateboards, tennis rackets, and football pads echoing faintly in the background, Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlotte Nash led a meeting with Grayson-area residents last night over concerns about safety at Bay Creek Park. Nash was joined by Grayson’s district commissioner Tommy Hunter, as well as Gwinnett County Police Chief Butch Ayers and several officers from the County’s police force.
These community leaders faced an audience of over 80 community residents for nearly 2 hours. The overwhelming theme?
Chairman Nash opened the meeting with some quick introductions and guidelines for dialogue. She then explained why the proposed police precinct, approved during a 2009 SPLOST vote, had been delayed. Economic issues prevented the necessary funding for the project to get underway, but the Board of Commissioners is looking toward the 2016 budget to help get things rolling. The precinct, which was to be built in Bay Creek Park across from the basketball courts, will be built per the SPLOST regulations, but Nash pointed out that the building itself isn’t the issue, staffing is.
“It takes a team of 5 officers to fill one patrol spot for 24 hours,” Nash explained. “To fully staff a precinct, it takes 75 officers, and that costs over $5 million per year.”
Chief Ayers corroborated Nash’s points, and explained why staffing is such a challenge.
“It takes eight and half months to one year to get one police officer fully trained and prepared for solo patrol,” Ayers said. “This area is a highly competitive market, and that has an impact on our ability to staff.”
The meeting quickly turned to an update on the shooting that occurred on October 6th. Chief Ayers informed the crowd that a suspect had been identified, and warrants had been issued for the suspect’s arrest. According to the investigating officers, the entire incident stemmed from a dispute on the basketball courts that escalated into an argument. When a bystander tried to intervene, the suspect produced a gun and fired. When police arrived on the scene, there were no witnesses around to interview, which created a long and challenging investigation for GCPD officials.
WSB-TV reported late last night that the suspect, Daniel Root, was apprehended in Snellville only a few hours after the meeting concluded. The GCPD issued a statement confirming that Daniel Root was indeed apprehended in Snellville last night.
Ayers explained why the October 6 shooting was such a strange case.
“Nobody called 911. We didn’t get a call about the incident until 9:00 that night, and even then it was to an administrative number where they left a voicemail asking for someone to call them back.”
Ayers then explained that in order for a police officer to be dispatched to a potential crime scene, a 911 call must be made through the county system.
“GCPD is data-driven,” Ayers said, “so if you don’t call when something happens, that data doesn’t make it into our system.”
The rest of the meeting centered on how the park could be made safer. Residents were given the opportunity to speak up and share their thoughts and suggestions, and chief among them were the use of technology throughout the park and an increased police presence. Chief Ayers explained that GCPD officers have conducted over 1,000 area checks at Bay Creek Park alone in 2015, with each check logged and noted with the county by the officers themselves and the GPS devices in each patrol car.
Another issue was the park’s late hours. Bay Creek, which is considered an active park by the County, stays open until 11:00 PM. In contrast, Tribble Mill – a passive park – operates only from sunrise until sunset. The hours of operation are a County ordinance, and don’t vary from park to park. Chairman Nash explained the discrepancy between active and passive park hours.
“Active parks have lights and ballfields where people practice. Because of those practices and games, and the need to get them all in, our active parks stay open later to accommodate the athletics,” she said. “Passive parks don’t have the lights, and so they close at sunset.”
The discussion, while lively, was civil and orderly. Concerned adults stood to make their points regarding safety and several young people spoke in defense of the skatepark. Over 25 young people attended the meeting, all with the intent of keeping the skatepark open. Their fears were put to rest by one of the event’s organizers, Jessie Harris.
“We don’t want to close the skatepark down,” Harris said. “We just want the community to engage, and you have. Thank you for being here.”
The meeting ended with no timetable for next steps. “I don’t want to promise something I can’t follow through on,” Nash said. However, Nash did agree to increased communication with the community regarding the County’s plans for improving safety and the construction of the precinct.
Harris and others were pleased with the overall turnout and response from the community.
“This is what we wanted,” Harris said. “Overall, it was a good first step.”
A gallery of photos from the event are below.