COVINGTON, Ga. — For the next two weeks, at least one police officer or sheriff’s deputy will monitor the Covington Square at all times.
Police Chief Stacey Cotton shared the plan to address “safety and security concerns” surrounding the Square with Mayor Steve Horton and members of the city council during its meeting Monday night. Cotton said growing concern among the community led to the decision to keep a law enforcement officer stationed downtown 24/7 until the statue situation is resolved.
“Obviously we’ve had five different demonstrations and activities up on the Square as of yesterday, Sunday [July 19],” he said. “To date, we haven’t had any incidents. Everything’s been peaceful and everybody’s conducted themselves in a peaceful manner to be heard. But given that we’ve had some concerns from citizens and some of the businesses … we’ve tried to be more present on the Square with extra patrol, have officers get out up there … and just be seen to give everybody the feeling of being safe.
“But most recently, given the judge is giving them 14 days to prepare a brief before he makes any kind of decision on the statue, the sheriff and I just discussed that we’re going to continue to put officers up there,” Cotton continued. “But in conjunction with the sheriff’s office, we’re going to keep an officer up there 24 hours, whether it be a deputy or a Covington police officer, so that we always have some police presence, law enforcement presence until the courts decide what’s going to happen with the monument.”
Horton said he, Cotton, City Manager Scott Andrews, Newton County Sheriff Ezell Brown and Newton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Marcello Banes had talked previously about sustaining an increased police presence in the downtown area. He described the plan as “aggressive” but necessary.
“That’s a pretty aggressive plan for the next 14 days,” Horton said. “but it does allow room to pull back if they need to, or if it needs to continue on they can do that. But, you know, the sheriff’s comment to me was — I know it’s the same thing that the chief said — they’re committed to whatever it takes, and they’re going to try to work within allocated resources that they have. And talking with Chairman Banes today, he concurs that we need to have a plan and to be working toward it to preserve the peace downtown.”
Horton commended the sheriff’s office and city police department for working together to come up with a plan to ensure safety in the Square. He said such teamwork is often hard to find.
“There’s a lot of counties and cities in this state and other areas around the country that cannot and do not work [together] as well as we do, so I applaud y’all … for coming together to [address] these things and look after the people in our community — to look after us.”
The Newton County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 on July 14 to remove the 114-year-old “To the Confederate Dead of Newton County” statue from the center of the Square. One day later, Newton County Superior Court Judge John Ott ordered the county not to remove the statue until a hearing held Monday morning where he chose to delay his ruling to allow attorneys on both sides of the issue two weeks to justify their legal arguments.