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April 5, 2013

Police listen to criticism after baby’s slaying

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Two weeks after a baby was shot to death in what police say was an attempted street robbery, residents of this coastal city faced police officials Thursday with suggestions and grievances that included pleas for more officers in their neighborhoods and more efforts to get guns off the streets.

More than 150 citizens attended a town hall meeting in Brunswick to address their concerns about crime. Police chiefs for the city and surrounding Glynn County, along with the sheriff, took questions and criticism in equal measure for more than 90 minutes — and often answered they simply don’t have the money to protect the community as well as they would like.

Richard Willis, who lives near downtown, said he no longer sees officers on bike or on foot in his neighborhood. He complained it took police far too long to respond when a neighbor’s home was burglarized recently.

“It took over two hours for the city police department to show up while my neighbors were watching these people take stuff out of the house,” Willis said.

Brunswick officials organized the town meeting after a March 21 crime shocked Americans far beyond this small port city 80 miles south of Savannah. Police say a teenage robber demanding money shot 13-month-old Antonio Santiago in the face and wounded the child’s mother in the leg after she refused to give him money. Sherry West was pushing her baby in his stroller a few blocks from their home.

Glynn County Police Chief Matt Doering said he was forced to cut police bike patrols as he had to stretch his budget in recent years. He told residents a single murder investigation by his department will typically run up more than 300 hours of overtime, costing taxpayers at least $10,000.

“You want more officers on the street?” Doering asked. “You need to pay for it.”

The main meeting room at Brunswick’s Old City Hall building was filled with citizens from across the diverse community — black and white, college-aged and gray-haired, wearing suit coats and baseball caps.

Resident Jannie Everette urged police to start a program where they would accept guns brought to them by citizens with no questions asked.

“These guns need to be taken off the street,” Everette said. “There are crimes being committed with guns by people who, I believe, are not the original owners.”

Sarah O’Neill, who lives near downtown, told the chiefs she has trouble being eyes and ears for the police when 911 dispatchers don’t believe what she tells them.

She said she recently called to report two men dealing drugs on her street and was told by a dispatcher the men she was looking at were police officers. O’Neill said that was preposterous.

“We know what goes in our neighborhoods,” O’Neill said. “You need to listen to us.”

Green, the city police chief, responded: “We’re listening now.”

Police have charged two teenagers — 17-year-old De’Marquise Elkins and Dominique Lang, 15 — with murder in the baby’s slaying last month. Attorneys for both Elkins and Lang have said they believe their clients are innocent. Elkins was scheduled to appear before a judge for a bond hearing Friday.

 

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