After talking to representatives from Cobb Police, the county’s November-December Superior Court grand jury said work needed to be done to improve turnover in the department.
Local and federal agencies want to lure Cobb officers to their departments because their training in Cobb is considered outstanding, grand jurors said. Also, salaries must be more competitive with area police departments.
Cobb Police Chief John Houser, who met with the grand jury, said the 600-officer department’s turnover rate doubled between 2010 and 2011, with one precinct losing three officers in a week.
“We do a great job. Our citizens are safe,” Houser said. “What is concerning is the turnover with our officers leaving for departments with some of these other incentives.”
And when officers leave, it could take a year to replace them because of training requirements, Houser said.
Houser said officers are attracted to other departments that offer extra pay for college-educated officers and are not as restrictive on overtime as Cobb. The grand jury recommended that county provide incentives in these areas.
Houser said officers can be sent home if they receive overtime at the end of a pay period.
The grand jury also recommended that officers be allowed to take their cars home, which it said could improve safety in neighborhoods by making police more visible and also decrease downtime between shifts and allow shifts to overlap.
Any of these additions would require funding from the Cobb Board of Commissioners. And Commission Chairman Tim Lee said that will be a tough sell.
“We just have too many officers, and that’s too big of a capital investment to do that,” he said.
But Houser said allowing officers to take their cars home could eventually save money because the vehicles won’t have as many miles and officers will take better care of the cars because they feel more of a “buy-in” with them. This could allow the cars to have longer life spans and decreased maintenance costs.
“In the long term, I think the counties and the cities start recouping their investment and the department is more efficient,” he said.
While not making a recommendation, the grand jury said the police department is running out of operational space, meaning that a new and larger police headquarters will be needed.
Lee said commissioners will wait to see the final recommendations of the county’s Citizen Oversight Committee before making a decision on what to do with police compensation.
“Right now, we don’t have the money to give raises to anybody,” he said.
Northwest Cobb Commissioner Helen Goreham said the board will have to be careful in how it handles police pay.
“I do have a desire to be competitive in our pay scale, but there’s the practicality of ‘Do we have the money to address it?’” she said.