Hidden in Plain Clothes: New Police Unit Patrols Campus
Posted April 25, 2012 | Atlanta, GA
During the past three months, as life on campus has continued at its usual hectic pace, it’s likely that, no matter how observant you may be, you haven’t noticed one particular group of folks on campus.
And that’s just how the Georgia Tech Police Department would like it, as its new plain-clothes officer unit is not one that’s meant to be seen. But for the past three months, seven days a week, teams of five have operated in plain clothes to try and head off crime at the pass, particularly the most common types of incidents on campus.
“We’ve made several arrests and made contact with people who have been wanted outside Georgia Tech that were committing crimes here,” said Sergeant Ian Mayberry, who oversees the plain-clothes unit.
One arrest in the Clough Commons was a criminal who had several warrants out for his arrest in Fulton County, and who was suspected in other thefts on campus from camera footage. A second arrest in the College of Management involved a planted dummy laptop. Officers left the laptop in an area of the building where theft had been an issue, and within 30 minutes a regular campus offender took the bait.
“It’s a great tool for us,” Mayberry said — although, in a few instances, good citizens have either called in the “abandoned” laptop to police or intervened themselves when it appeared someone was considering taking it as his own. As much as possible, plain-clothes officers call for uniformed patrol to make arrests, but do take the opportunity to initiate a conversation when they see behavior that leaves one vulnerable to crime.
“If [officers] find valuables unattended, they take up a position somewhere they can watch and see what’s happening, then discretely go over [to the owner] and identify themselves as an officer, let them know they’ve seen thefts in the area, that it’s something to be aware of, and give basic prevention information,” Mayberry said. “It’s generally very well-accepted.”
Plain-clothes teams deploy based on crime trends present on campus. Officers undergo additional training with the Atlanta Police Department’s undercover detail before being assigned to plain-clothes duty.
“We have a lot of different tactics we’re able to use that you just can’t employ when in uniform or a patrol car,” Mayberry said.