Sheriff pilots new surveillance program

The+Bibb+County+Sheriff%27s+Office+%22Operation+Overwatch%22+caught+a+shooting+on+camera+last+summer+off+Houston+Avenue.

The Bibb County Sheriff’s Office “Operation Overwatch” caught a shooting on camera last summer off Houston Avenue.

When guns were drawn and a man was shot in a recent domestic dispute, the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office captured all the action with a new surveillance camera.

Early this summer, the sheriff partnered with Georgia Power’s SiteView program and Cox Communications to erect and monitor a high-definition camera in a violence-prone area on Houston Avenue.

Since June 1, the Operation Overwatch pilot program helped with more than 20 felony arrests, Sheriff David Davis told Macon-Bibb County commissioners Tuesday.

Sgt. Sentel Smith shared the camera footage of the shooting during the Public Safety Committee.

Deputies first encountered the wounded man after he crashed his SUV and caused a power outage several blocks away from where shots were fired.

He was not telling the truth to investigators about what happened to him, Smith said.

“Without this video footage, it would have been a different story,” Smith told commissioners.

After reviewing the archived video, investigators learned the wounded man had an earlier argument with the mother of his child. When he later drove up at a convenience store, the woman and her brother were walking the baby in a stroller.

The men scuffled and the woman’s brother pulled out a gun and shot her child’s father who then got a gun from his car and returned fire.

The woman scrambled with the stroller to take the baby to safety.

In other incidents at that same hot spot, deputies caught a drug deal on video and were able to send a patrol car to diffuse a gang disturbance while officers were monitoring the camera in real time.

Gang specialist Lt. Cedric Penson displayed multiple mug shots of those arrested in the last few months.

“That’s unbelievable,” Commissioner Joe Allen said. “That’s putting people in jail who wouldn’t be in jail.”

With the sheriff’s office down dozens of deputies, Allen sees it as a useful tool to help combat crime.

“This is a no-brainer,” Allen told his colleagues on the commission.

Davis would like to add a camera downtown and post several more in high-crime neighborhoods.

The sheriff’s office presentation admitted there would be privacy concerns and staffing issues that would prevent 24-hour live monitoring, but it also cited numerous advantages including deterring violence and solving crimes when witnesses don’t cooperate.

“We’re just glad we were able to get this program started,” Davis told commissioners and Mayor Robert Reichert.

The sheriff’s office began looking into the surveillance cameras about two years ago, he said.

Davis anticipates it will cost “several hundred dollars” per camera, per month to enter an agreement with Georgia Power and Cox Communications to install and maintain the equipment.

The pilot camera now in place can zoom, tilt and pan by remote control to expand its range. Other static models would be cheaper, he said.

The sheriff is currently exploring funding options to expand the surveillance.

“We’ll take money from anybody,” Davis said.

When a commissioner asked if the cameras can be shot out, Maj. Eric Woodford replied: “Certainly, but we’ll know who shot it.”

Contact Civic Reporting Senior Fellow Liz Fabian at [email protected] or call 478-301-2976.