Johns Creek Citizens Police Academy cadets got a glimpse this past week into JCPD’s gritty and clandestine undercover operations and Crime Scene Investigations units.
This was week three of nine for the diverse group of 21 adult cadets -- in all nine women and 12 men -- taking part in the fall and final academy class of the semiannual series now in its third consecutive year.
The Tuesday evening class was as covert in nature as its presenter -- a veteran detective and former Marine and Alpharetta police SWAT team member who now works JCPD’s vice squad.
So secretive, in fact, that he asked not to be photographed or named so his cover’s not blown.
“If any of y’all see me out there on street, please don’t walk up yelling my name and saying hello,” the detective half-jokingly asked. “Because I could be right in the middle of an investigation and things could go bad fast.”
But cadets quickly learned that they’re in capable hands with this detective and the four others who comprise the department's full-time and full-on Criminal Investigations Division and Special Investigations Unit.
Anything from auto thefts to narcotics sales and trafficking to underage alcohol stings are tasked by CID detectives.
“Here’s the deal,” the undercover detective emphasized to cadets. “If it’s illegal, it’s illegal. And if you send us a tip, I promise you we will get to it and get the bad guys off the street.”
In as much a reactive operation, detectives take a proactive approach to crime prevention with a focus on local youth outreach and parental education, working closely with Fulton County resource officers -- police officers assigned to specific school campuses - and especially with new media technology like social media sites Facebook and Twitter.
The intra-agency lines of communications are open. And Johns Creek police detectives are tapped in on every level, the undercover detective said.
“Get in your kids’ business,” he added. “Because the more you get in it, the less I have to.”
Following the deep-cover detective’s presentation, JCPD detective Sgt. Derrick Wilson took to the lectern to tell cadets about common crimes his squad investigates.
He emphasized how a little common sense on the part of the public can go a long way to help them prevent even the most petty crimes.
“When I arrive it’s usually after the fact,” said a dapper and eloquent Sgt. Wilson in a beige suit and matching tie. “But you might see something in your neighborhood that is the missing piece we need to solve a crime. So we depend a lot on the public to help us with our jobs.”
The most common crimes Sgt. Wilson said his division encounters are for the large part preventable.
People leaving garage doors open allows criminals -- first-timers, especially -- fast access to unlocked cars.
They also embolden thieves -- in most cases kids rummaging through cars for spare change or electronics for booze and drug money -- to step up their game by entering the main residence through an unlocked door.
"That's the catalyst," Wilson said. "Once they get a sense of power they're off and running."
Then there’s the fast-growing identity theft and credit card fraud crimes.
Sgt. Wilson recalled a recent complainant who was bamboozled by an email money scheme where they were asked to “test” a money wire service but were required to refund the over-payment.
Needless to say, the victim was cleaned out. And Wilson's hands were tied.
It’s frustrating, Sgt. Wilson said, because most often his hands are tied when crimes don't occur in his jurisdiction or can’t be prosecuted from a legal perspective because the victim was a willing participant.
Finally, cadets got a hand-on demonstration from JCPD’s Crime Scene Investigation unit.
CSI’s mystique has grown in recent years from network TV shows depicting panache, flashy production and whip-smart scripts from the likes of cop drama shows including CBS networks' NCIS: Los Angeles starring rapper LL Cool J ("Goin' Back To Cali" "Mama Said Knock You Out") and Chris O’Donnell (Scent Of A Woman and Batman & Robin).
But JCPD’s outfit is anything but glamorous.
It’s an assignment steeped in tedium and focus, the basement floor in the justice system and the guiding force in successful prosecutions.
A JCPD CSI technician explained how detectives procure evidence and how it’s processed through their unit. It's then sent to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab. DNA evidence gathering is especially critical in case outcomes, the presenter said.
Cadets were then treated to a fingerprint gathering demonstration while a sexual assault kit reserved only for demonstration purposes was passed around the room.
“I have kids in this community,” said fellow cadet Freda Hardage of Johns Creek and director of Northside Hospital’s Alpharetta medical campus on Old Milton Parkway.
“It’s all about being a good citizen to participate in this class," she added. "To know your police officers and interact with them when and if you need them. But hoping you won't ever need them.”