Lt. D.G. Schoeppner is Tucker’s liaison to the DeKalb County Police Department and can be followed at facebook.com/dgschoeppner or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most of the police related complaints for the City come across my desk in one way or another. These are typically inquiries about addressing issues like burglaries and entering autos, among other issues in various neighborhoods. Sometimes the police have legitimately made a mistake. When this happens, we take whatever steps are necessary to fix it. However, most of the time the issue can be attributed to poor communication between the public and the police, or a misunderstanding of what the police are capable of doing.
The most recent complaint that I received was regarding homeless people squatting in a vacant house. The complaint went into detail about how the police have been called, but the homeless keep returning. It also talked about how neglected the property is and how the neighbors feel unsafe to live nearby. After researching the call activity for the area, I discovered that for the entire year of 2019 there had been one police call associated with that address. Likewise, there had been also only one code enforcement complaint ever filed. This complaint had just come in the previous day.
Looking at the one call that we had received, the comments stated that two homeless people were arguing in the front yard and that the subjects were leaving as the call was being placed. It further said that the caller did not wish to speak with the responding officer. In this instance, our officer is really only able to go to the location, verify that everyone is gone and then leave.
This is the poor communication that I talked about earlier. The citizen thinks they have done their civic duty by calling. They will also likely be unhappy with the outcome because nothing was done to correct the problem. From our perspective, the information provided gave no indication that there may be homeless living on the property. Even if we did suspect something like this, we would not be able to take action without a complaint from the property owner or one of the squatters having committed some sort of crime in our presence. There is still a small chance that we may be able to take some sort of action, but the chance is very small.
In order to increase the chances of a positive outcome we need the public to make the most of the calls they make to us. If the caller had said something about the homeless squatting in the house, we would have known that it was the underlying problem of the argument. Even better, if the caller would meet with the officer, the citizen could tell us in their own words the nature of the problem. We also need citizens to be willing to testify if charges are made. I know it can be scary, but most of the time cooperative witnesses are the only way cases can be successfully prosecuted. Lastly, keep calling if the problem persists. We may not be able to resolve a situation every time, but if you keep calling, the circumstances may eventually line up where we can take action.
The bottom line is that neither the police nor the citizens can correct these problems on our own. If we work on communicating better, it will almost certainly result in better neighborhoods for us all.