Residents say public safety departments are in ‘crisis mode’

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Higher pay needed

DeKalb County residents recently voiced concerns about the proposed 2017 budget, suggesting commissioners consider higher pay for police officers and firefighters in the county.

In a DeKalb County Board of Commissioners meeting Feb. 14, Teresa Hardy said she’s concerned police aren’t being paid enough.

“I come to speak to you in support of our public safety officers and workers getting an increase,” said Hardy, who is president of Rainbow Creek Homeowners Association. “We in Rainbow Creek are experiencing a lot of crime. Though it’s crime like theft and burglary, we want to make sure our officers have everything they need.”

Hardy said she’s in support of the county hiring more officers to make a more visible presence in the neighborhood and surrounding area. Hardy said in the past she’s met with DeKalb County Police Department officials about the issue.

“We want to see more officers on the street. We’ve met with the chief and the public safety director and the South DeKalb Precinct has come to our neighborhood on several occasions to keep us encouraged, but it’s really, really hard,” said Hardy. “When you’re living every day and the same thing keeps happening. We want our police and fire department to get everything they truly deserve.”

The CEO’s office released a proposed budget for 2017, which can be found online on the county’s official website. In the budget, $2.1 million will be allotted to the police department to hire 20 additional officers and 36 more fire department employees. Also $600,000 is allocated for police body cameras.

However, residents including Faye Coffield said 20 additional officers would not be enough. Coffield, a former officer who worked in Atlanta, said DeKalb’s public safety departments are in “crisis mode.”

“There is not adequate money for raises for police, firefighters or 911 operators,” Coffield said. “I did notice that the CEO recommends we get more positions for police and fire, but the police are down by 300. It is at a crisis mode and it needs to be addressed before anything else is addressed. If citizens don’t feel safe, they will not live here.”

Coffield said the county is not attracting enough people to work as officers in DeKalb and money for projects should be spent on officers instead.
“Someone has to put their foot down and the money for projects has to be redirected to police. They need a minimum of a 20 percent raise and you need to look at their insurance benefits,” Coffield said.

The budget, which was submitted on Jan. 17, will have another public hearing on Feb. 28. Commissioners are also holding their own public hearing about the budget.

Lonzy Robertson, who works with the background and recruiting unit at the DeKalb County Police Department, said there are pros and cons to recruiting in DeKalb County.

Robertson said in an email exchange with The Champion, “some challenges that we see are that we don’t get large turnouts for recruiting events inside the county. We attend several events within the county and either the applicants don’t engage us or they really don’t know all that we do. We have a large department and there are many career avenues once a person completes two years of patrol status.”

Robertson said it’s difficult to retain veteran officers in the department, but he said he’s thankful residents seem to be concerned about pay increases.

“I think it’s great that our community supports higher pay. I think a large number of DeKalb citizens are aware that the police department is stretched to the limits because of manpower and we appreciate that they are hearing our pay concerns,” Robertson said. “As the head of the recruiting department, we do all that we can to bring in qualified applicants, but realistically a new hire with no experience is about two to three years out from actually understanding the demands of the job. A pay increase would help us keep the veteran officers who are leaving because of higher pay and better benefits.”

According to DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond, the proposed $1.3 billion budget will address water billing issues and blighted properties.

“This budget provides a framework for strengthening the government’s fiscal condition, improving public safety, annualizing the fiscal year 2016 pay and compensation increases and funding various infrastructure and capital improvements,” Thurmond stated. “By proactively managing our resources, we will be able to maintain a projected $50.1 million fund balance, which equals one month’s operating revenue.”

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