The Sandy Springs Police Department has reduced crime in the city by 40 percent since July 1 of last year, but faces critical problems with the number of auto accidents it handles each month, as well as drug and vice activity in the city, Police Chief Gene Wilson reported to members of the Sandy Springs Business Association this month.

The force of 86 officers and nine civilian staff members have been averaging 7,000 calls a month, according to the chief, including 600 auto accidents and 1,000 alarms of which 95 percent are false. The officers have written 1,584 tickets in just six months and made 170 arrests, of which 36 were felony arrests and 24 were for DUI.

The chief pointed out that one officer on the force, Officer Lapidus, has made more DUI arrests in Sandy Springs in the last six months of 2006 than all of the officers of the Fulton County force made during the first six months of the year. And, the chief said Officer Lapidus has a very good conviction rate in court.

Chief Wilson told the approximately 60 Sandy Springs business people attending the breakfast meeting that the 86 officers on the force average 10 years of experience.

“We want to keep our officers trained, want to keep them motivated,” the chief stated. “The community is very important to that. If you see an officer doing something good, tell them. If you see them doing something bad, call me and let me know what they are doing. We are not going to get better if we don’t know what we are doing that is not good.”

However, the chief said the complaints so far have been extremely low. “I got a letter from a gentleman that was very complimentary of the officer who gave him a ticket. This is not something that you see. Trust me,” he added.

By national standards, Chief Wilson said the department probably should be at 210 officers. He said the city just approved 20 more officers, which brings the department to 106. “I think with the caliber of people we have hired so far, that we can police the community in the neighborhood of 150-170.”

The chief said there have been “a couple of things that have stood out since we started policing the community. First of all, 600 traffic accidents a month is a huge amount for the number of people we have.” He said most of those traffic accidents are along GA 400 and I-285. “When it rains, we will be backed up sometimes two hours just answering accident calls.”

He told the group, “If you go out on GA 400 or I-285 and drive the speed limit you probably will be run over. I think part of the problem is just the culture. If you drive the pace of everybody, you will be going 65-70. The speed limit is 55,” he expained.

He said one day when they were checking speeders, “we decided we were not going to write any tickets to anyone who was not going 20 miles over the speed limit. We wrote 108 tickets and locked up three people. The worst was 122 mph in a 55 mph speed zone. He said that was “a lady in a turbo Porche SUV. She was on a cellphone and was late for her hair appointment. The only thing that I thought might catch her attention as she was flying by everybody including the police car she passed.”

The chief said he would really like to see spending 80 percent of their efforts in the neighborhoods, “but until we can cut down on some of the accidents we have to spend the time on them.”

The chief pointed out that the intersection of GA 400 and I-285 is the third worst interstate intersection in the United States, “and I am really not striving to be number one.”

The other thing the department has found “that is a surprise to me is the amount of drugs we have here,” the chief said. “I am not talking about people selling nickel bags of marijuana. It appears from what we are seeing that Sandy Springs is becoming a real crossroads for people transporting and dealing in large quantities of marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine. On the weekends, we have made countless arrests at high-dollar hotels where these people have come to town to do their business.”

In a recent incident at a local Residence Inn, the chief said, four of his officers were contaminated after entering a room where suspects were washing raw methamphetamine. “All four had to go to the hospital and one was unconscious for a while. This stuff is extremely dangerous.” If it explodes or spreads, it can hurt everybody around it, he said.

He also said they are seeing a huge amount of vice activity—prostitution and massage parlors is almost rampant in some areas. “Many of these people come to this country illegally and the cost of bringing them here is paid for through this illegal activity. These people are literally in bondage.”

He said there have been two murders in the city since the force went into action, both committed by people who were here illegally and both have left the country and the department is unable to get them back here for prosecution.

Crime is occurring up and down Roswell Road, but the chief said it is worst around I-285 and around Dunwoody Place, where along with other crime problems the Wachovia bank in the shopping center parking lot there was actually robbed twice recently.

The chief invited those at the meeting to attend the open community meeting his department holds the second Wednesday of each month at police headquarters at 5995 Barfield Road to inform the public and gain community input into its operations.