The Blue Ridge Boyz

I was about to put up a pretty lame post about getting ready for Masters Week, and how I was going to be gone and how the book sold three copies in March, a year and two months since it's been published, and how freaking cool is that, but then I ran into J.B.

I've always believed in Community Policing. I wrote the lesson plan for our three day community policing class, and am teaching Community Policing in-service later this month. It's always been pretty simple to me: When the community works and trusts the police, it helps the police immeasurably. First, the residents aren't hesitant to call for help or when something isn't right. They recognize the value in good police officers and assist them. Secondly, when police do have to make an arrest, those same citizens are less likely to fight because they know the officer on a more personal level.

The best example of why I believe in Community Policing would be an incident that happened when I first started in Augusta. The county I work and live in is predominantly upper middle class, and there are only a few neighborhoods that would be considered tough to police. Augusta, next to where I work in live is completely opposite. One day in early 2002 I was sent to the county next to mine for a mental transport. As a deputy sheriff, it's our job to transport any residents of our county, so even though the kid was in Augusta, I had to go pick him up and take him to a mental hospital because he was a resident of our county. When I got there he took off running and I chased him into a four lane busy road where I tackled him. I was right across the entrance to one of Augusta's tough neighborhoods and there was a recent officer involved shooting that had the neighborhood on edge. It was seven in the evening and I was rolling around in the center lane with this mental transport trying to get him in handcuffs. You know what people kept doing? They just kept driving past, a few even honked their horns encouraging the kid I'm sure. That would've never happened where I live. People would have jumped out and helped me. But not there, they were pissed I was interrupting their evening commute.

Now, there are tons of reasons why our county is different. But it starts with us. And, that being said, it really starts with our leadership. In our mission, vision and value statement, "working partnership with the community" is in all of them at some point. So, even if I didn't believe in it so much, the department that employs me does.

When I was in the Crime Suppression Unit, from 2003 to 2005, we noticed a small gang forming around the Blue Ridge Drive area. I was assigned to investigate and kind of keep tabs on them. They were in the ninth grade when they formed, and I actually lived close to a few of them. They were kind of a joke at first. They would tag some buildings, some stop signs with BRB, for Blue Ridge Boyz, and they walked around but that was pretty much it.

Unfortunately, as they got older they started getting a little more violent. Fights, maybe a bit of bullying, some of that type of stuff.

I had gotten to know several of them personally at this point. One of them, he went by Big Isaac, was probably the best basketball player I've ever seen. I would meet with them in uniform and play basketball and just talk to them, and Big Isaac was amazing. He was playing varsity his ninth grade year, but when he started hanging around the Boyz his grades started dropping. I've always wondered what he could've turned into.

And I got to know the rest of them as well. J.B. always hung around the edges, but he could play football and had enough sense to know when they were going to do something stupid he would step away. He went on to play college football and now he is one of the most popular personal trainers at my gym.

But, I knew all those kids. And I watched them slowly slip into more serious crimes. These chuckle heads are the ones that got into a fight at a community center, and I was chasing one of them down and tackled him in the middle of the street. I didn't know who I was chasing at the time, everything happened so fast, but had I known it was one of the Blue Ridge Boyz, I would have just drove to their house. But, when I tackled him, I knocked my phone off my belt. I never figured out which one it was, but one of them stole my cell phone, and used it to call 911 a bunch of times and threatened to kill the President. I was waiting for the Secret Service to kick my door in for a week, and it still makes me laugh.

Then we started seeing them wearing colors, bandannas and stuff and were afraid they had affiliated with a gang in Augusta. I remember backing up an officer on a traffic stop and Big Isaac was in the back seat. We were searching the car and when I patted him down I found a folded blue bandanna in his back pocket. When I pulled it out he looked at me and said, "Heaton, I'm gone, man. I'm gone."

I ended up getting promoted but would still keep in touch with them. I still played football with them and tried to mentor them in some ways.

Then four of them robbed a dollar store. I think they got less than fifty dollars.

I was a new sergeant when they robbed the store, and it didn't take a seasoned investigator to solve the robbery. They were still high school kids and not accomplished criminals. Not to mention, they robbed the one store that was closest to where they all lived and anyone who worked that area and knew them. The four of them that were the core of their gang were sent off for a ten years. The Blue Ridge Boyz were disbanded.

Back to J.B. I watched him play football at Georgia Southern, and then when he became a personal trainer at the gym I go to, we would always catch up and talk. He's a good kid. I truly think football saved his life in some ways. He loved it so much he knew when he needed to step away because if he was caught up with them he wouldn't be able to play. Football took him to college.

I hadn't been to the gym lately and I haven't seen J.B. in a while. Christina and I work out usually when she gets home and she comes up with some great workouts. By great I mean gut wrenching, heaving, almost dying, heart attack inducing workouts.

But I still have a few months on my contract so I haven't ended my gym membership yet. I went this afternoon and ran into J.B. He was training two girls and yelled across the room, "I like your shirt!" I was wearing a Georgia Southern shirt and I smiled and went to talk to him. He told me the crew was recently released from prison, and they met on Sundays to play basketball. Then he invited me to come past one day to see everyone. Their ten year sentence was finally up.

Which got me thinking. In those ten years, Laney has grown into a young adult from an infant. I got divorced. I moved into my townhome. I've been promoted twice and switched to day shift. I've dated and finally found an amazing girlfriend that I'm head over heels for. My grandmother passed away. My first book has been published, and a year and two months later it is still selling. I've been on countless vacations and been to countless weddings. My cousins have had kids in those ten years. My parents retired and moved to Georgia.

I could go on and on, but for those four kids, who became adults in the state prison system, I couldn't imagine how different those ten years has been for them. Granted, they made their choice. I don't feel sorry for them that I lived such a full life over the last ten years while they lived in a cell.   

But, I can't wait to see them, either. I'm truly excited that J.B. invited me to come past. It's weird that I'm looking forward to seeing four guys that just spent ten years in prison for armed robbery.

But, maybe that is what community policing is all about. They aren't inmates or former inmates to me. They are Big Isaac, Little Isaac, Felix, and D.J.

And maybe, just maybe, I'll find out which one stole my phone and threatened to kill the president. That shit still cracks me up.


On a side note, Masters Week is upon us and I'm working for CBS again. In fact, with my regular job and my Masters job, I'm working the next fifteen days straight or something. It's going to suck. It'll be a few weeks before I can post anything. Hopefully I'll have some great stories about meeting with CBS executives and turning Who is Olivia Green into a movie.