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Private citizens not allowed to display spotlights on old police cars
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If you've been wondering about something in your community, Ask The Times is your place to get it answered. The following questions were submitted by readers and answered through the efforts of our news staff.

My "Ask The Times" question concerns incidents of police impersonators such as the one most recently in Lumpkin County. I see a lot of Crown Victoria or other similar cars used for real law enforcement cars with spotlights and some even with bar lights on the tops of them. Is it legal for anyone to have these types of lights on personal vehicles? And if so what are the guidelines for them?

Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks with the Hall County Sheriff's Office said that law enforcement vehicles are commonly sold or auctioned off as surplus once they reach the end of their police service life.

All agency markings, lights, sirens and most special equipment are removed prior to the sale, but spotlights are sometimes left in place because they are mounted through the A-post of the car body.

State law prohibits the display of emergency lights by private citizens, Wilbanks said, with certain exceptions such as volunteer firefighters.

Joe Britte, public information officer with the Gainesville Police Department, said that any time a police officer conducts a traffic stop, they will be in a well-marked vehicle, blue lights will be used and they will identify themselves as police officers.

Those concerned about whether a traffic stop is legitimate can call 911 to have dispatch confirm whether the person is a real officer, Britte added.

The pamphlets distributed by Hall County Drug/DUI Courts at their graduation ceremonies over the past year (2011) indicated recidivism rates for their clients of approximately 10 percent. Given the nature of the substance-dependent (alcohol or drugs) individuals whom they serve, the 10 percent figure is absolutely phenomenal (and too good to be true). We wonder exactly how this figure was calculated.

Debbie Mott, director of treatment services for the Northeastern Judicial Circuit, said that to calculate the recidivism data for their accountability court programs, they follow the National Drug Court Institute's research guide, "Local Drug Court Research: Navigating Performance Measures and Process Evaluations."

Recidivism, according to those guidelines, is defined "as the rate at which drug court clients are rearrested."

Since the program's inception locally in 2001, 372 people have graduated from Hall County Drug Court, Mott said. As of Wednesday, 29 graduates have been rearrested (some multiple times) in Hall County, which is an 8 percent re-arrest rate.

Of those 29 graduates, 19 have been convicted of the misdemeanor or felony offense with which they were charged, which gives a 5 percent new conviction rate.

That means that 343, or 92 percent, of graduates have never had any further interaction with the Hall County judicial system since they graduated from Drug Court, Mott said.

She noted that those numbers are accurate for Hall County criminal justice data only, as the office doesn't have the resources to calculate charges and convictions from state and national crime information databases.

"It appears that Hall County's Drug Court is quite successful and is making an impact on the community in terms of taxpayer savings, and, most importantly, lives restored," Mott said.

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