Like many Georgia cities and counties by the end of 2022, the law enforcement agencies in Rome and Floyd County felt they were losing ground to street gangs, drugs and the violence that always goes with them. A neighborhood known as South Rome was showing a surging number of 911 calls for police to investigate the full range of violence that typically accompanies drug trafficking. Even though the police were solving many cases and making arrests, the overall problem was still not subsiding. As fast as police would arrest and remove one drug dealer from the neighborhood, others would be there to replace them. Even with stiff prosecutions and strong cooperation from the local district attorney and courts, the cycle of drugs and violence kept repeating itself.

The South Rome area seemed to be in their darkest hour when a group of concerned elderly residents and a local pastor came forward to plead with the Rome and Floyd police departments to make it stop. Many senior citizens were afraid to come out of their houses. Some even boarded up their doors and windows to protect themselves from stray gunfire. In addition, the once proud neighborhood was beginning to show signs of blight, abandoned homes and despair.

The Rome and Floyd County police were frustrated. They wanted to help residents, but traditional police approaches weren’t working. Looking for solutions, they reached out to several local, state and federal law enforcement partners for advice. One of those partners was the North Georgia Elder Abuse Task Force, which included experienced active and retired law enforcement officers. They carefully listened to leaders and officers from both departments, then suggested using a comprehensive community policing plan that had worked with similar problems in other jurisdictions as far back as the 1990s.

They showed the officers and staff how it could work, but insisted there were three key components upon which they could not compromise.

First came the plan– which became labeled as Save Our Seniors (SOS)– that required forming a tight work group of various law enforcement agencies operating in the area. Second, officers would have to reach out and work closely with the support and cooperation of the besieged citizens of the community. Third, all officers would be proactive and aggressive, but never abusive, in dealing with the active criminals in South Rome. Everyone agreed. So the SOS plan was composed and shared in joint briefings, and police chaplains prayed over everyone for the plan’s safe execution.

As the SOS plan began to unfold, nervous residents secretly came out of their neighborhood. They met with the police leaders and were advised it would take some heavy, but not abusive, enforcement which would only be one part of the five-phase plan. They pledged their support and cooperation as the new group of law enforcement partners began setting up surveillances, gathering criminal intelligence and conducting undercover operations in the area— all while working with the consent of the Floyd Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s office.

On March 24, approximately 150 federal, state and local officers converged on South Rome in SWAT teams, helicopters, take down teams and armored vehicles. As they descended upon the neighborhood that they knew was replete with high-power firearms and organized dangerous felons, neighbors cheered the officers as suspects ran but could not escape the eye-in-the-sky helicopter. Before it was over, officers and detectives had arrested 39 wanted suspects and fugitives, searched five involved houses, seized 40 high power firearms, along with large quantities of a variety of illicit drugs and vehicles.

Most importantly, the entire operation was carried out without any officer, prisoner or by-standers getting injured.

As the suspects were carried off to jail, peace was restored to the neighborhood. In the hours that followed, there were heart-warming images of an elderly resident in the middle of the street hugging one of the lead officers, children again riding bicycles where they could not have previously gone and a resident out sweeping her driveway without having to look over her shoulder and worry.

The long-term components of the SOS plan include an extensive neighborhood cleanup and fixup, saturation police patrols and careful neighborhood watch groups partnering with police to prevent the return of drug trafficking. Most importantly, the violence has stopped, and the officers made it that way without firing a shot.

March 24, 2023 was truly a proud day for all federal, state and local law enforcing agencies operating in Northwest. They stood tall as they protected and served South Rome residents in the finest traditions of law enforcement.

The plan that guided them will serve as a model for others to follow.

Dan Flynn has served as the chief of police of Marietta as well as Savannah.


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