Public can help speed up sheriff’s emergency response time, deputy says

Better Business Bureau also warns of recent trend in online scams that are expected to escalate in the holidays


Liz Fabian

Bibb County deputies confer outside the sheriff’s office. The department’s crime analyst said if the public filed non-emergency incident reports online, response times will improve.

While Bibb County sheriff’s Sgt. Santel Smith addressed the Downtown Macon Community Association this week, 27 calls for assistance were holding with only 16 deputies on duty Tuesday morning, he said.

“What causes our call volume to be so high?” Smith asked the downtown business owners. “A lot of calls that are not high priority.”

In addition to 911 calls, dispatchers also answer the non-emergency number – 478-751-7500. Those calls  can also keep patrol officers occupied on matters that could have been reported online, reserving deputies for more serious matters.

As the county works to fill sheriff’s deputy patrol vacancies, Smith encouraged the group to take advantage of the sheriff’s online portal to submit non-emergency incident reports at the website Because of a glitch that redirects to on certain servers, Smith recommends typing the www in the website address.

The sheriff’s office website provides online incident reporting through the “how do I…” tab in the top right corner of the website. (Screenshot)

You start the process by going to the right hand corner of the homepage, and clicking on a tab that reads: “How do I… ,” with a drop down menu that states, “File a report online.”

Smith said a victim might feel they have a high-priority case that demands immediate attention, but crimes such as entering auto, burglaries, theft and harassment often can wait if the perpetrator is no longer on the scene. Officers can then be routed to more pressing concerns, such as traffic accidents, aggravated assaults, homicides and burglaries in progress.

“(Monday) morning if you called in and said your car was broken into… you could wait a while,” Smith said because of the rainy rush hour. “Accidents with injuries took priority.”

Smith, a crime analyst and intelligence officer for the sheriff’s office, said there are 20 categories to choose from on the online report site.

Whether it is a barking dog, vandalism, forgery, harassing phone call, identity theft, shoplifting, hit and run without injuries, or you simply saw something suspicious, online reporting is available for those at least 18 years old.

Those without computer access can file a report in person with the TeleServe Unit at the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office Downtown Annex at 111 Third Street, or call them at 478-803-2344.

Smith said if someone’s $50 lawnmower was stolen and there were no suspects or surveillance images, victims might not even hear back from an investigator, but he assured the downtown association that those online reports typically are checked three times a day and are reviewed by an investigator.

It’s Smith’s job to notice patterns of criminal behavior, so if multiple neighbors report stolen items, that cumulative information could lead officers to the culprit.

Ways to avoid being a victim

He encouraged everyone not to become creatures of habit, who leave their homes the same way each day, because someone could be watching.

“If you don’t want to be a victim of crime, change up your habits,” Smith said. “Throw your whole day off by walking out the back door.”

These type of crime prevention techniques can also reduce the number of calls coming into law enforcement.

During this holiday shopping season, he urges everyone not to keep anything of value in vehicles.

Sheriff’s deputies encourage the public to be extra vigilant this holiday season and not leave valuables in vehicles. (Liz Fabian)

When walking out of a store, have car keys handy. He also said don’t unlock your car until you are right there to open the door to keep someone on the other side of the vehicle from hopping into the back seat as you approach. Having a key poking out from between your fingers provides a weapon to jab a thief or attacker, which could provide investigators with DNA evidence.

Smith encouraged merchants to keep expensive merchandise and piles of goods away from the front door, to make it harder for shoplifters.

“Have people who constantly circulate your store,” Smith advised.

His “No. 1 plague right now” is shoplifters who can grab $10,000 worth of high-end merchandise and race out the door.

Arranging store displays in a zigzag pattern instead of straight aisles can also slow down a thief’s exit, he said.

“Change your patterns. Change your habits,” Smith told the association as he left the meeting, headed back to work.

‘Tis the season for scamming

The Better Business Bureau’s Jason Blankenship also warned the downtown businesspeople about bogus online sellers and imposter websites that try to undercut existing businesses by posing as a legitimate business.

For this season Blankenship is coining a new phrase: “Before you spend, search. Anybody can put up a Facebook boutique,” he cautioned.

The online shopping explosion during the COVID-19 pandemic did not escape criminals looking to make a fast buck, he said.

Ads popping up on social media can be alluring, but customers might find that their order never arrives, or takes several weeks to show up and the quality of the item is not as it appeared.

Consumers can help track scammers by reporting suspicious incidents to The resulting BBB data base can provide a warning for anyone contemplating purchasing something from an online business that has already been reported.

The BBB encourages buyers to know the company. If payment is requested by a wire transfer, that’s a red flag. Credit card payments can give the shopper some protection to recoup losses if the company turns out to be a scam operation.

As always, guard your personnel information and be leery of callers demanding some form of utility or other payment over the phone, or their service will be disconnected.

Many people’s bank accounts are linked to their cellphones, he reminded.

“Y’all are carrying around more technology than it took to put a man on the moon,” Blankenship said.

Clicking on a suspicious link and providing information could give scammers all they need to access your accounts.

“People are leaving the drug game to go to identity theft” because of the money that can be made, he said.

For more holiday shopping precautions and advice, visit

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Jarvis Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-301-2976.