By Kevin LarsonJuly 19, 2018
More than 70 people attended a safety and security town hall held at Fort Stewart's Main Post Chapel July 17 to get updates on current investigations occurring on the installation and to voice their public safety concerns.
The town hall, scheduled for 30 minutes, ended up running for an hour. Attendees included several spouses and their children, Soldiers, and installation representatives-the garrison command team, Fort Stewart military police, housing, the 911 dispatch center, and U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command.
Garrison commander Col. Jason Wolter opened the town hall by addressing the ongoing homicide investigation on post.
"Last week's homicide is an open investigation and we will respect the family and the process," Wolter said. "Additionally, the victims and accused have rights. We do not wish to violate or impede the investigation in anyway."
Director of Emergency Services and installation provost marshal Lt. Col. Martin Schmidt said the military police Soldiers patrolling Fort Stewart are fully trained and well educated. He also said the installation's security process works.
"Our access control points are well-manned and people coming into the installation are vetted," he said.
Attendees took advantage of having the garrison command team and emergency services representatives on-hand and asked about 12 questions during the town hall. The area of concern voiced the loudest was military police response times to calls, especially to reports of attempted break-ins while residents are home. Residents said MPs take as long as an hour to respond.
Mia Moore, a Fort Stewart 911 dispatcher, explained the 911 center prioritizes calls based on the nature of the call. While every call is important, some calls require a more rapid response than other calls. The bottom line, though, is a report of a break-in in progress is a priority call, she said. Calling 911 also guarantees an MP will respond.
"There's no way it's going to take an hour for us to get to your house," Moore said. "I'll stand on that."
Moore's response prompted a housing block coordinator attending the town hall to ask attendees what number they are calling to report incidents. All the residents that responded to her question said they are calling the MP desk. The block coordinator reminded residents to call 911 to report incidents.
Attendees asked about increasing military police patrols on the installation. They also asked about what MPs are doing during patrols.
"We see MPs not doing anything," said an attendee. "Why?"
Schmidt responded that the question provided good feedback for him to look into what MPs are doing during duty hours. He also said that at any given time, there is one MP patrol on duty for every 2.5 square miles of the installation.
"We're saturated," Schmidt said.
Another resident voiced her concerns about feeling safe on the installation and that her family is considering moving off post. Her concerns also stemmed from MPs not taking reports and responding to calls quickly enough. Residents sometimes do not even call the MP because they do not respond.
"I don't have faith in the MPs," she said. "I should, but I don't."
Schmidt said he would look into the matter and stressed any and all incidents need to be reported to MPs. Doing so helps feed where patrols need to be and what to be on the lookout for.
"We need reporting to see that pattern, to connect the dots," he said.
Wolter said he would prefer residents over-report instead of choosing not to report incidents. He also said Fort Stewart is safe.
"You're safer living on Fort Stewart than anywhere else," he said.
Residents also asked what steps it takes to get additional traffic control devices like speed bumps installed in housing areas. Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Rebecca Myers said the housing mayors are an excellent resource to use to bring matters like that to the garrison's attention.
"Every housing area has a mayor," she said. "They can help address the problem."
A lighter-but-still-important moment occurred when a resident asked what could be done about an alligator living in a pond near housing. She expressed concern for children's safety and asked if a fence could be built around the pond. Wolter said a fence would most likely not solve the problem and instead said he would have wildlife experts look into trapping and relocating the alligator.
"Alligators don't have a purpose on the installation," Wolter said, chuckling. "We will bar that alligator from the installation."