Full Interview with Public Information Officer Justin Samples

Kurt Hanlon

How long have you been a police officer?

A little over five years. Not terribly long. Five years here at Statesboro PD, that’s where I started my law enforcement career.

How long have you lived here?

I came here in ’97 to go to Georgia Southern, and ended up staying. I’m True Blue.

When did you get your current position as Public Information Officer?

I was hired in 2010, spent two and half years on the road, so around 2012 to 2013.

What do you do in this position?

Basically my time is spent between media, contacts, community programs, recruitments and design work. I review all the events from the previous day to see if anything is press release necessary. I field any questions from media outlets that are local. I also run the social media for the PD so I’m checking the Facebook page and the Twitter feed. I’m responsible for all community related events. I’m either scheduling, coordinating or working with them myself. I get a lot of calls like we need an officer to come this school to talk to the kids, or we need a police car at this school next to a firetruck. I’m also over recruitment, so I’m always looking for positions to be filled. I do the design work for the PD when it comes to emblems, logos, literature…I lay all that out on graphics programs here at the office.

Police activity seems to be higher around the campus in comparison to last semester. Why?

There’s only a few more officers patrolling that area compared to last year. We have the city broken up into zones and officers are assigned to those zones. If you look at a map of the city it’s basically a big circle, and the bottom corner is basically the campus area, so there’s a whole lot else out there we have to patrol. However, we do targeted patrols, so if we see an increase in activity in a zone, we will put more resources into that zone. Particularly when the students come back. There’s a huge influx of people in one area, so we do try to increase police presence over there as a deterrent. You have this concentration of high valuables and an area with a lot of people so we try to keep some presence up in that area to make sure that would be criminals know that we’re there.

So does police presence decrease noticeably during Spring and Summer?

Depends. A lot of times we will increase presence during the summer when students aren’t around because many students get into the habit of leaving valuables behind when they go out of town. Really anytime when [students] will be gone for a long period of time, because now you have a lot of empty apartments that no one is checking, which makes it a higher target for crimes. But it all depends on the crimes that are occurring and what we know historically when crime increases and decreases. I always use the analogy of a balloon. If you squeeze down on one side of it then all the air rushes to the other side, going back and forth where you squeeze. So wherever we concentrate enforcement, there’s a chance for crime to increase in another area around the city. If you see an increase in enforcement it could be that there’s a spike in crime, or historically we’ve had an increase in crime around that time.

Are there any new enforcement techniques the department is implementing this year?

We’re doing a traffic enforcement hotspot. We’re picking areas that are having a lot of accidents one week, and doing enforcement the next week. Usually we have that around Fair road, the bypass or on Northside drive, which is where accidents usually occur. We started doing it at the beginning of the summer. What we do is our patrol captain will look at accidents for the week and will pick where the most accidents were. That becomes the “hotspot.” So we announce the hotspot to the city and notify our officers where the hotspots are, and what specific violations led to the accidents so they know what to look for.

Do you have any tips for students to avoid becoming a victim of a crime?

Nothing is one hundred percent crime proof, but doing something as simple as making sure your car is locked would solve most of our car breaking problems. Close to ninety percent of our car break-ins were what we call “non-forced,” which means it was unlocked. People are just walking around opening car doors and taking what’s inside. They’ll even check apartment doors, so make sure those are locked as well. I mean, it’s never the victims fault, but let’s not make it easier, right? I always tell people…we’re not Gotham City, but we’re also not Mayberry. We don’t have any criminal masterminds, but we do have crimes of opportunity.

So…any tips for students trying to stay out of trouble with the law?

How do I say this without being sarcastic…don’t break the law? People know what’s right and what’s wrong. Just do what’s right.

Alright, what’s a good tip for a student who does break it?

If we get involved, the best thing to do is to cooperate. Any disagreements you might have with us during is totally understandable. However, the best thing to do while we’re there is to cooperate with us. The disagreement and where you have your voice heard is in court. A lot of times charges escalate because person isn’t cooperating with us. A big issue with that is people lying to us about who they are, and we have to know who you are when we are out investigating a crime. You’ll get an extra charge just for not telling us your name. What’s the point of that? We’re going to find out who you are eventually, so you might as well just not have to deal with that extra charge in court.

What about with alcohol violations, such as underage drinking? How does the department deal with that?

We’ve made some positive headway with alcohol enforcement. We do “covert” and “overt” enforcement…predominantly “covert” but we announce it before proceeding.

How does that work?

Prior to undercover enforcement we do a press release and a Facebook blast visible to everybody, but we specifically email the bar owners and stakeholders and tell them that between “this date and this date” we’re going to be doing one or two or three covert operations. We warn everyone. Our goal is to prevent the crime rather than to write citations. There’s no victim if there’s no crime.

Do you think Michael’s Law helps to reduce the amount of underage drinkers around Statesboro?

I can say to the students “don’t drink when you’re underage” all day long, but do you think that’s going to deter them from doing it? We’d like it to, and certainly Michael’s Law helped to prevent underage drinking, but a lot of crimes that occur, occur because of irresponsible consumption of alcohol, which can either be underage or over.

Do you have anything to say to students who are inclined to break the law in this aspect?

It goes beyond the realm of criminal consequences, it effects your health. Michael Gatto unfortunately was one of the results of that. But it doesn’t even have to be violent. It could be overconsumption, you get alcohol poisoning, and pass out. You’re more likely to commit a DUI the more you drink. And there’s drug use. Everyone has opinions on whether or not marijuana should be legal. It’s legal in Colorado, it’s legal in Washington, but it’s not legal here. You shouldn’t do drugs for multiple reasons, one of them being that they bring other criminal activity with it. A lot of burglaries and person-to-person thefts are drug related.


Yeah. If it’s known a person has drugs, people who are addicted will do what they can to get it, and it’s also an assumption that if you have drugs you may have money as well. So stay away from drugs. I know I sound like Nancy Reagan saying “just say no,” but I tell that to students all the time. Is it worth it getting robbed for having something illegal in your possession? There are a lot of things that come with the drug culture. Also just parties in general. I know parties are fun, and that it’s great to open up your apartment doors to everyone…but the problem is now you have all these people in your apartment that you don’t really know. I always encourage people to make sure to keep their parties and gatherings small. I know that’s hard to swallow, and I get that, I was there once. But if you have someone at your party that you don’t know, and they take something, what are you going to do? You can report it, but you won’t know who took it, and you had twenty to fifty people in your apartment. We can do our best, but it’s hard to narrow that group down.

So what’s that best way to find out more about the Statesboro Police Department?

I check the Facebook page constantly to see if there are any requests or questions. That’s where everybody goes and they’re there all the time anyway so that’s how we choose to reach out to people. That’s the best way to find out information about us.