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The Georgian Indian Associations Network (GIAN) organized a meeting on September 21st, 2011 to discuss the nature and prevention of home invasions in Cobb, Fulton & Gwinnett counties at The Palace Restaurant in Norcross. Led by well known community members Ani Agnihotri and Chand Akkeneni, it was also attended by officials from the law enforcement agencies, public safety as well as office of the District Attorney. Over a hundred residents, mostly of Indian origin also attended the meeting.
Neeraj Sharma whose home was attacked urged community members that prevention was the goal. He added that technology played an important role not only in abetting future crimes but also aiding individuals in seeking help and transmitting information adding, “one never leaves home without a phone.”
For Anu Patel whose home was also ransacked, Facebook has become a medium to share her story and secure information from potential witnesses. She recalled that people were responding to her queries and that she was passing on that information to law enforcement. For Patel, whose elderly parents were also with her when the incident took place, it was an unforgettable ordeal. “We could not believe that twelve years were on the floor. It seems hard to focus on anything else except what happened.”
One resident, whose home had been invaded, did not wish to be named. He insisted on the need to “beef up security and be cautious”. The sense of violation of freedom and insecurity were visible as he spoke of his ordeal.
Although law enforcement present, were unwilling to comment on the profile of the attackers or whether there was a connection between the crimes, they admitted that there was a known gang that was operating and targeting the Indian American and Asian Community. Community members whose homes had been invaded, reported masked gunmen entering the home through basements or unlocked garage doors, demanding that the victims lie down on the floor, some even tied up and proceeded to ransack the home for valuables such as jewelry or cash that may have been deposited in the safe. The last reported incident was at Glenn Abbey in Alpharetta on September 15th, 2011.
Officer Will Merrill, Intelligence Officer with the Alpharetta Police Department said that there were six home invasions known till date. He lauded the community members for taking proactive steps to deal with the problem; share information and co-operate with the law enforcement. He also called upon residents to start neighborhood watches and engage in communication with various agencies involved in dealing with crime. He reiterated, “we have the resources to catch these criminals.”
Officer Scott Vash from the Department of Public Safety said that “personal safety and prevention were the need of the hour”. He revealed that the attackers carried out surveillance and therefore advised residents to call the police if they were to observe anything out of the ordinary or suspicious.
Detective N. D. Washington, Criminals Investigation Department suggested that residents vary routines, change routes and time of leaving the home. “Don’t hesitate to call law enforcement” he urged, while advising the community to “comply and not fight back” when attacked.
Mr. Todd Ashley, Executive Assistant District Attorney/North Fulton County Prosecution also shared his views regarding matters of jurisdiction when queried about the nature of prosecution, especially if the criminals were operating across the country or if the matter needed more attention. Current criminal charges are resolved by local police. Bringing matters to higher authorities such as the GBI may help convey the urgency of the problem.
The Officials present at the meeting clarified procedures following the crime, reiterated their commitment in catching those involved and encouraged the community members to organize their efforts in dealing with the problem.
Some of the key strategies in preventing future crime include
- Insure Valuables and deposit them in Banks. Keep few valuables at home.
· Note serial numbers of valuable electronic items
· Ensure that all entrances are secured. Basement and garage doors are locked
·-Use Alarms, motion detector lights, safety locks and other preventive measures. Use of firearms should be restricted to only those who know and are not afraid to use them
·-Vary routines. Do not leave home at the same time every day. Consequently change routes to work, and do not leave at the same time every day.
·-Be mindful of your surroundings. If there is anything unusual such as an unknown vehicle parked in the street or the presence of strangers who have no work in the area, report to the police.
·-Call law enforcement at the slightest suspicion because any small observation could provide a clue
· Comply with the attackers and do not seek to resist them. A provoked attacker might get aggressive and this could prove fatal.
·-Co- operate with law enforcement and other agencies by providing information as well as allowing them to do their job. Do not interfere with material that can be used as evidence.
·-Participate in official programs organized by the police, register with crime fighting forums and community programs to generate awareness.
A follow up meeting was organized by community leaders on October 2nd at the Palace Restaurant and an organization called Eye on Crime was formally organized. The new organization aims to create awareness, aid law enforcement and help track crime.