Gunfire in south Lowndes County dominated the discussion at Thursday’s Lowndes County Board of Supervisors meeting.
Residents from the Hughes Road area — which is off of Highway 69, near the Lake Lowndes turnoff — said they were frustrated with increasing incidents of gunfire. Complaints ranged from people in cars shooting, but also included people carelessly shooting across a resident’s land.
Part of the problem residents face is that, unlike in the City of Columbus, it is not illegal to fire guns in the county as long as it does not result in property damage or injury.
Arnie Johnson, a longtime resident, said the area had “gotten pretty rough lately.”
“There’s too much shooting going on,” he said, explaining that after one incident he found 28 casings in the road near his property. “We feel like we need some patrol, we need some cameras. We’d just like a little more attention down there.”
Johnson said when he called the sheriff’s office, he was told that the law wasn’t being broken because shooting in the county isn’t illegal.
District 5 Supervisor Leroy Brooks said he recognized that the sheriff’s office needs more manpower, but that the county was doing the best it could to help.
“It’s just getting overwhelming,” he said. “The one good thing is that you all have come to the board with your concerns, because people in the city will see things happen but will not say a word. In the city, even when kids get shot they won’t say a word. We’re very sensitive, and we’re committed to enhancing law enforcement as best we can.”
District 1 Supervisor Harry Sanders agreed with Brooks’ point that the sheriff’s department is short of manpower and simply does not have the resources to patrol everywhere, all the time. He encouraged residents to look out for each other and consider forming a neighborhood watch.
“It’s probably one or two bad guys,” Sanders said. “If you can identify them, you can probably stop 90 percent of it.”
District 4 Supervisor Jeff Smith, whose district the neighborhood is in, said he would like to see the sheriff’s office be “more aggressive” in the area.
“We can only talk for so long,” Smith said.
Johnson also said that he was having a problem with people shooting across his land.
“We have grandchildren, and we have 135 acres out there,” he said. “They used to run through the woods and play and have a good time. There are people not being malicious, they’re just practicing and they don’t understand you can’t fire across my land. We can’t let the grandchildren run through the woods anymore.”
County Attorney Tim Hudson said it is illegal to fire across someone’s land, and it is also illegal to shoot across a roadway.
Those are complaints that could be enforced, he said.
Leonardo Dismukes, who also lives in the area, said better lighting would help.
“It’s dark as all get-out,” he said. “When you pass by Mahogany Drive, there’s no light. That’s where they shoot at.”
Dismukes said that he had as many as three shots strike his house, and several of his neighbors’ homes had been struck, as well.
“We will look into these, and I will personally look into it,” said Chief Deputy Brent Swan. “If they need to be reinvestigated, I’ll make sure it gets done. We are limited on certain things, but it sounds like this is an area we need to focus more patrols on. I’m not going to make any excuses, but we’ll address these issues going forward.”
Smith suggested the county contact 4-County to see about getting more lights installed throughout the area.
No action was taken.
In other business, Swan told the board that the sheriff’s office needs direction on handling the security cameras it asked for permission to buy.
Earlier this month the board authorized spending about $10,000 on four mobile surveillance cameras that would be placed in hotspots around the county.
However, the vendor offers a lease agreement rather than a purchase. The lease would be for five years and cost about $10,000 a year, Swan said. Leasing is more economical because the cost includes data storage and cell service, which the county would otherwise have to buy separately. The per-unit cost of the cameras would also be higher than the about $2,500 lease cost.
Sanders questioned whether the board could approve an agreement that would bind future boards, and the supervisors asked Hudson to research the issue and come back with an answer during Monday’s meeting.