Each week, the Lake Oconee News sits down with a local law enforcement officer to ask them questions about their jobs enforcing Georgia law.
This week, LON sat down with Union Point Police Chief Robert Cash to ask him why Union Point has a police department.
LON: Why does Union Point need a police department?
Cash: Let me give you the backstory of the Union Point Police Department. The original city charter was 1904. Three years later, the city decided in 1907 to create a police department under special circumstances.
LON: Under special circumstances?
Cash: Like emergencies, something like that. Well, they formed one without any special circumstances. Oscar Fluker, who was a current resident of the city, sued and won, so the city rewrote its charter, forming the Union Point Police Department in 1907. From that point on, there’s always been a police department in Union Point.
LON: But none of the other cities in Greene County besides the county seat, Greensboro, have a police department, except for Union Point.
Cash: Here’s the thing about Union Point, if you look at it geographically, we are at the intersection of three major state routes. Before there were state routes, there were three rail lines. This is where the city of Union Point, Union Junction, Scruggsville, Thorton’s Crossing-- all of those old names came from a crossroads. And that’s what Union Point always has been. Because you could go to Athens, you could go to Augusta from this one point. So Greensboro’s always been Greensboro, but Union Point has had different incarnations. But it’s always been exactly where it is right now.
So if you have, say if you go back a hundred years, you had train tracks, so you still had crime. I mean, the Old West was still alive in 1907. So all that stuff was still here, and that’s why they hired a night watchman, because crime began to increase, even in 1907. During the Great Depression, they never lost a police officer, never lost the police department. It continued all the way through because crime was always here, because you were always at a crossroads.
So you fast forward to, say, 2018, now since the ‘60s we’ve had I-20 out there, which runs parallel with 278. So if you don’t want to go down I-20, you go down 278, and where’s it going to take you if you’re going from Atlanta to Augusta? Directly through Union Point.
Now, I’m not saying this happens a lot, but this is just a modern example: if the county’s out there running a drug intervention, and they [drug runners] know that, where are they going to come?
LON: They’re going to take an alternate route.
Cash: So drugs, crime, everything passes through here. We have our own torrid history of murder and mayhem in Union Point. I mean, they wrote a book about it. Carlton Lewis--it’s full of things that he went through just in his 10 years as chief. Just from the late ‘70s to the late ‘80s: murders, kidnapping.
But the main reason I think we have one here is we’ve been here for so long.
We’re embedded here. We’re a small town. We’re a small department. There’s only seven of us. But the thing is, everybody knows who we are. So from my perspective of working here from the early 2000s to now is the fact that we are so embedded, people do trust us to an extent of they just come up to ask us general questions. They ask us questions that may not pertain to law enforcement.
Now, we still have our crime that we have to deal with, but I think, from my perspective--and of course, I’m going to toot my own horn--is what successful community policing is, Union Point is a success. Because we don’t have a high crime rate, is because we are here in this small town and we’re able to do so much with so little, which I think not only reflects Union Point Police Department, but it reflects Union Point itself.
We’ve never been more than Union Point. We’ve never been a major metropolitan area, nor do we ever want to be. But we’ve continued to be here, through the good times and the bad times. Through the bad crimes and like we are right now, knock on wood, when the crime is low.
And it has its seasons. But a lot of the crime and the criminals we deal with are repeat offenders. There are some gang affiliations, local gangs, here in Union Point. Greensboro’s the same way. They have beef continually. So we’re small and they know we’re small, so we have to be, what you might say, “small but fierce.” You’ve heard that saying before. I’m not saying we’re fierce, but they know we’re here. So if they want to bring trouble here, then they have to deal with us.
Where if, say we weren’t here, and the county has to deal with 20 percent of the population located in one area of the county by the lake, and they get a bad call out there, who’s going to come to Union Point. So if they get a major accident out there, how many deputies does that take? Say if it’s 3 o’clock in the morning, who’s going to be in Union Point?
So, we have our own purpose.
LON: So, it’s kind of self-preservation in a way?
Cash: It is. Land-wise, White Plains is bigger than us and Woodville is bigger than us. But population-wise, we’re more concentrated, and like I said, doing more with less. Our post office services five municipalities. Not to mention our city workers, with the water and sewage they we have, other than the almost 1,800 residents that live here, there’s 2,000 or 3,000 more that they have to serve.
And we do this with six people. So, I think we do a lot, which says a lot about the spirit of Union Point.
LON: You said at one point that any crime that happens anywhere else in Greene County eventually comes to Union Point.
Cash: Anything locally that happens--there’s a case recently that we had where a fight started at the high school. The high school is in Greensboro, and those two juveniles got into a fight. Well, one happens to live in Union Point and the other lives down there. Well, on the weekend, his boys and his boys were all like, “Let’s go get that fool.”
Nobody in this town had anything to do with what went on at the high school, but all of a sudden, all of the revenge and payback that they want to bring down here, it comes down here and we got to deal with it.
LON: So then the fight continued on in Union Point
Cash: Exactly. And traditionally, in Union Point, you can go a week and you won’t have a major incident. You won’t have a major burgarly or anything like that. But then one night you’ll get called and you’ll be dealing with shootings, stabbings, rape--it could be anything. In the past few months, we had four shootings in one weekend. Two one night and two in the next night.
So two people fighting in Greensboro will end up down here, and we’ve got to deal with something we don’t even know anything about.
LON: So what you’re saying is, if I hear you right, what you’re saying is that Union Point has a low crime rate and a low population, but when crime does come to Union Point, it’s bad and it’s concentrated. So, it’ll happen a lot in a really short period of time, so it’s worthy maintaining a police department for the times when it does come, even if it may not be all the time like Greensboro. Is that right?
Cash: Exactly. People say, “Well, you don’t need a full-time police department.” Of course we do. You can never try to figure out when this is going to take place. It’s just going to take place. One day, nothing at all. One day you may have to deal with traditional police work like getting a cat out of a tree or unlocking somebody’s car door. And you have your various EMS calls. But turn around that night, and you’ve got four shootings and they end up pulled over and arrested in front of the mayor’s house.
One thing that law enforcement is guilty a lot of is being complacent. And sometimes I’m guilty of it, not being as proactive as I need to be, but when we get lazy is when we get hurt or somebody else gets hurt. So we as a department can’t get complacent. We’re always staying busy. We’re always trying to think ahead. And luckily for us, we have the ability to get in front of stuff before it becomes an issue, like this hurricane coming through. Because of last time, we learned what it is we need to do. So all those measures are already in place and we’re more prepared than we were last time.
LON: [Officer] Kayla [Casal] made a reference to there being an incident today that kind of justified the need for a Union Point Police Department.
Cash: What she was talking about is, it speaks to the need of the department that, while we may be slow in some areas, I try to fill in the gaps with cross-training our officers in other fields, like emergency medical type situations. What I’m working on now is that some of my officers are first-responder certified, so they do supplement the fire department, if need be. If there’s multiple calls or a mass casualty or something like that where a lot of people are injured, they can assist from a medical standpoint because they’re trained to do that.
But our biggest problem here is we get a lot of mentally ill people. And one of the trends across the state is that it’s hard, as far as law enforcement goes, especially for small departments, is actually getting officers cross-trained on how to deal in a mental health situation. Our job is to apprehend criminals, so it’s hard to retrain a police officer, especially someone who’s been a cop for 30 years.
Today, we had an autistic child that we were having to deal with for two hours. And he slapped me and tried to bite me and all that stuff, and it was nothing personal. But because I’ve been doing this awhile, and I’m not an expert by any means, I know how to deal in certain situations.
And that’s what I was trying to do. We tried to get him back down to where he needs to be. And it worked. And as soon as he was there, we released him and everything was fine. And then we turned the scene over to DFCS.
LON: So what Kayla was saying is that the need for Union Point’s police department goes beyond crime. So if I have it right, what she was saying is that the abilities of the Union Point Police Department go beyond dealing with crime to also, like you said, being EMTs or helping deal with mentally ill people because y’all are cross-trained.
Cash: Exactly. That’s what we’re working on. We technically get there before anyone else. To at least know how to calm and situation and not let it get out of hand, at least stop it agressing further until the right people can get there. That would help tremendously.
And that’s not just the truth in Union Point. It’s the truth with all cops these days. We got off that call and went to a call where we had to deal with a code enforcement issue, back-to-back. So you have to switch gears and its difficult, but that what’s expected of us here. Because the way Union Point is, how the ordinances and everything has evolved, is the police department does more than just police. We handle code enforcement, we have our animal control, and with all of that going on. You’ve got a lot of hats you’ve gotta wear.
It’s not like I’m on a power trip and want to do all this. It needs to be done, and if I’m in a capacity to do it, I don’t mind doing it.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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