Cobb Police has $66M plan in works
by Ricky Leroux
August 07, 2014 04:00 AM | 4930 views | 19 19 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sam Heaton
Sam Heaton
slideshow
John Houser
John Houser
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MARIETTA — After months of work, Cobb officials have released their plan to help the county’s police department retain its officers.

The plan includes a yearly cost of $135,000 to increase the number of training sessions the department holds each year from two to four until 2017, about $12 million to purchase new cars to expand a take-home car program and $3.1 million in pay incentives, such as a program to pay officers with advanced degrees higher salaries.

Cobb County Board of Commissioners Chairman Tim Lee said this police improvement plan has been in the works since the beginning of the year.

“We have been working on this since (Cobb Public Safety Director) Sam (Heaton) got appointed last January. So Director Heaton spent several months assessing the situation and doing his own internal review and analysis. And (he) has been working on the preparation of his recommendation to get us fully staffed by Jan. 1, 2017, with a staffing structure that is, in his mind and (Police Chief John Houser’s) mind, the best way to move forward for the department,” Lee said.

Robert Quigley, spokesman for the county government, said the plan will require a total of $66 million to finance: $8 million from the general fund of the county’s budgets and $58 million from the proposed six-year one-cent special purpose local option sales tax.

While the Board of Commissioners will vote on the fiscal 2015 budget on August 26, the fiscal 2016 budget won’t be voted on until this time next year. The 2016 SPLOST will be voted on by the public on November 4.

The initiatives in the plan will be rolled out in stages between now and 2017. Some of the improvements are years away, such as a $16 million rebuild of the police headquarters, and some have already been implemented. For instance, the plan states $700,000 was already spent on new patrol rifles and $230,000 was spent on protective gear.

Lance LoRusso, counsel for the Cobb County lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, general counsel for the Georgia FOP and a former police officer, has been critical of the efforts by Cobb’s commissioners to address police retention. While he was glad to see some of the biggest issues facing the department addressed, he said the portions of the plan in the fiscal 2015 budget must be approved by commissioners before officers can begin to see some improvement.

“That’s part of the frustration of the officers,” he said. “They know the plan’s out. It’s been presented well to them. They all have a copy. They’re waiting to see the vote because until it’s voted on, it’s just another proposal.”

Improved recruiting, increased benefits

Heaton said the department has already completed some of the initiatives related to recruitment and hiring.

“We’ve done a lot on our recruiting and hiring end, trying to improve that,” he said. “We’ve added some folks to our internal affairs division to try to beef that up so we make sure we’re getting as many folks through the process as we can. And we’ve also done some recruiting efforts, as far as going out to job fairs, increased advertising and (a) streamlined … police application process.”

According to Heaton, the Cobb Police Department has 63 vacancies for sworn officers, including 40 new positions approved by the Board of Commissioners in March. The report states the department will need to hire about 232 officers by January 2017 for the department to be fully staffed, a projection based on the current retention levels.

Other hiring initiatives include increasing the number of police training academies from two per year to four. Heaton said it will help get new officers on the job faster.

“Previously, we had a class that would begin in January and a class that would begin in July. Anyone that we hired … after a class began in January — let’s say we hired them in March — they would have to wait, you know, four months before (another) class was going to start.”

Heaton said he hopes to have 25 officers in each class, for a total of 100 new officers being trained each year.

After recruiting and training the officers, Cobb police will be able to qualify for what’s called a “shift differential” beginning in fiscal 2015. Because some shifts are more dangerous or “less desirable,” the plan states, officers who work these shifts will qualify for an increased pay rate, or a differential.

Officers who work the evening shift will receive an extra $0.50 per hour, and officers working the “midnight shift” will receive an extra $1 per hour.

The plan also includes an educational incentive pay. While the specifics of this incentive are dependent on an 18-month pay study the commissioners ordered in April, Heaton said the plan will likely give an extra $1,000 per year to officers with an associate degree, $2,000 for a bachelor’s and $3,000 for a master’s.

By this time next year, when the fiscal 2016 budget is being considered, Heaton hopes the education incentive will be in the budget whether the pay study is complete or not.

“If they’re still not through with it, I would say that I would ask … to go ahead and move forward with it because so many (jurisdictions) around us are doing it,” he said.

LoRusso said he was glad to see the pay incentives in the plan.

“There were actually some things I was very happy to see, like an educational incentive, a shift deferential and, also, really enhanced efforts on recruiting. So, I thought those were very good,” he said.

All of the funding for pay incentives will come from the general fund of the county’s budget, according to Quigley, because SPLOST funds cannot be used for salaries or benefits.

Better shifts and take-home cars

Precinct 2 of the Cobb Police Department, which serves southwest Cobb, is unique among the county’s five precincts: Its officers work 10-hour shifts. According to the police improvement plan, the other four precincts will soon be following suit.

A 10-hour shift allows officers to work only four days a week, giving them an extra day off. Heaton believes the extra time off will significantly improve officer retention.

“When you work a 10-hour shift, as it cycles through the year, at the end of the year, you’re actually going to get about 50 days more off per year because those extra couple of hours add up,” he said.

Heaton said officers working eight-hour days go through three shift changes a day. As a result, there are three periods of time every day during which there are very few officers left in the field. 10-hour shifts will change that, he said, because they will be staggered throughout the day.

The precincts will adopt 10-hour shifts in stages: Precincts 1 and 3, serving northwest and southeast Cobb, respectively, by the end of 2015, and precincts 4 and 5, which serve northeast and west Cobb, by the end of 2016. The anticipated costs for the 10-hour shifts, about $1.6 million per precinct in the first year of implementation and $1.3 million per precinct per year after that, will also come from the general fund of the county’s budget.

Over the next 28 months, the county plans on spending about $2.2 million to replace aging police cars and about $12.3 million to expand their take-home car program. The funding for this initiative is dependent on SPLOST, Heaton said, although the department could still implement the program if it fails — it would take much longer, however.

“Now, obviously, there is money in SPLOST that would help with that tremendously. If the SPLOST doesn’t pass, my goal is (to) begin the take-home program next spring (or) summer. We would be able to do that, again, based on a budget passing with the requested cars in there. But we’d be able to start that. If the SPLOST didn’t pass, it would take us longer to get there, but we would still continue to work toward that take-home program.”

Take-home cars allow officers to arrive for their shifts ready to work. LoRusso said if the officers were sharing cars, the arriving officer may have to wait for the departing officer to arrive at the precinct in order to get a car and go to work — the way law enforcement was done 20 years ago, he added.

Heaton said 15 new cars, financed through the fiscal 2014 budget, were purchased in May and put in service in June. There are 55 additional cars which have been purchased, he added, but they are currently in the process of being outfitted for police use: Radio communication equipment, lights, sirens and decals must be added before police can use them.

Comments
(19)
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anonymous
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August 07, 2014
This stuff should have been done years ago with the general fund. Now it's on a splost that likely won't pass and Tim can blame the citizen for any future problems in basic government services. Bottom line we support the Police in Cobb! But all this on a splost? Political gimmick! What happens when the splost doesn't pass?
Holden Caulfield
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August 12, 2014
I won't be voting for SPLOST regardless of what is in it. You absolutely right that the general fund should pay for this.
Pro Middle Class
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August 07, 2014
Talk about trying to put lipstick on a pig, no pun intended, but these so called solutions are a joke. We are spending hundreds of millions of tax dollars to sponsor a bunch of people who negotiate for their very high salaries, and the majority of them are Union members. I’m talking about the Braves if you haven’t figured it out.

This is how you maintain police officers. First you have a pay plan. Cost of living plus x percent. It tells the officers how much their salary will increase each year. Second you have a pension plan. The people that sat on Ott’s little panel were dead wrong. Pensions entice people to stay, not leave. On top of this you provide drive home cars, it saves money in the long run and prevents shift overlap. You provide shift differential pay because it is the norm for the job. However 50 cents and 1 dollar was okay in the 70’s but doesn’t cut it now. Paying for a bachelor/masters degree is okay but people with an education will not waste it being a police officer for long.

Take this to your citizens, all of your citizens, not just the whining five percent that show up at all the meetings. All that group wants is either less taxes or more government fluff (sidewalks, parks, bike paths etc). Do a little market research. Send people out into the community and ask them about how important these jobs are.

Look at what other areas pay nationwide for taxes. Cobb Taxes are CHEAP!!!! As citizens if you do not desire these services then it is time to cut them. Making the county employees subsidize the tax system with no pay raise year after year needs to stop.

Let me give you an example on taxes. My grandfather purchased 1000 dollars worth of property in East Cobb in 1931. There wasn’t a fire department, street dept, water dept, MIS division, parks, streetscapes, side walks, bike paths, fleet maintenance, and very little police coverage to name a few. If you went to elementary school it was 1st through 8th at Mt. Bethel. If you went to high school you took a bus to Acworth. He paid $19.63 in taxes. Based on our current millage rate, your cost $11.93. One more thing, $19.63 in 1931 is equal to $307.81 in 2014. So the next time you start to complain about high taxes, keep your mouth shut.

mom comment
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August 08, 2014
50 cents and $1.00 for 2nd and third shift is absurd. Shift differential on hourly employees are 10% or 110 x base pay for second shift. Then third shift is 15% or 115 x base pay. Then hazardous duty pay is an entirely differential pay, it is generally 30% of base pay or 130x base pay. So someone working the second shift with hazardous duty would make a 140% and third shift 145%.

This way an officer making 40,000 on first shift would make $44,000 on Second Shift and $46,500 on 3rd shift just on overtime pay. ( not additional Hazardous duty pay.)

Now with that ridiculous 50cents and $1.00 that is out of date. If you assume a standard work year of 2080 hrs. It would only gain a $40,000 a year officer $41,040 per year on second shift and $42,080 on third shift. Then their ends up being no provision for Cost of living on it. Whereas with the standard 10/15% used in industry their are.

Sunday pay and holiday is 20% differential extra for all shifts required to work 24/7. Then the holiday dates being given at latter dates, when the employee wants them.

This is not Union, this is how the standard employer with more than 100 hourly employees not retail or fast food operate in the Atlanta Metro area. I was on the wage survey board over a 10 year period.
Kennesaw Resident
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August 12, 2014
I for one do not desire all of these services and would be pleased to see many of them cut.
Watcher...
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August 07, 2014
This is another reason to defeat Commissar Lee's November 4th, SPLOST Vote.

This is NOT a proper use of SPLOST money!
Jahenn
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August 07, 2014
Because for so long, republican goverments see raising property taxes (that pay for fire, police, etc) as evil, so they backdoor tax increases under these special local option taxes.
Beancounter Eric
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August 07, 2014
Funny how Cobb County can find hundreds of millions of dollars to build a playground for millionaires, but can't scrape together funds for a fundamental government purpose such as public safety.

The Commission forfeited any trust with the stadium cramdown - sad to say the best way to stop them, short of throwing them out of office, is to cut off the money supply.

Tim Lee & Company, you have abused the public's trust - do the county a big favor and resign your posts.
WHICH WAY RAY
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August 07, 2014
I wonder what would happen if they drove the cars under the speed limit....used turn signals....didn't brake hard...didn't accelerate hard when they were just on patrol and the lights not on how much better and longer they'd last and cut down on maintenance. You know basically drive like everyone else should when not on a call... Might save some money!
George909809707
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August 08, 2014
That is how they are driven. I guess you just have no frigging clue how many calls a day are responded to huh?
HotinAtlanta
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August 07, 2014
This is what our tax money should be paying for as well as for better pay for firefighters - NOT THAT STUPID BRAVES STADIUM!!!! The police and firefighters protect us and our property. That stadium is just a huge waste of money and will increase crime.
JJMule
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August 07, 2014
KING LEE's BRAVES 0-8 ROAD TRIP.

King Lee add more funds for your Braves.

8 foot wide sidewalks on every PAULDING COUNTY

TURNPIKE.

A BIG THANK YOU'.
Spencer 60
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August 07, 2014
Why on earth is something as fundamental as police cars dependant on a "special tax' (aka (SPLOST)!?!

That's simply political blackmail, the SPLOST shouldn;t be used for basic services, it's intended to only be for unique projects.

Regular property taxes should be paying for vehicle maintenance.

RickUSA2012
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August 07, 2014
Spencer, it's called kicking the can. The commissioners know that there is a good possibility that the SPLOST wont pass and this is when they will tell the officers "Well we tried" but now we don't have enough money. These commissioners have dangled this carrot to officers like this for the last 20 years.
anonymous
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August 07, 2014
Yep. But, I thank God there are other people out there who are recognizing this BS.

The Chamber and Tim Lee (and now the union luvin' Police Chief) want to make sure they get funding for all of the nonsense that is in the SPLOST...so they turn the SPLOST into a "Matter of Safety". Appalling...but so rino/democrat like

For goodness sake all of you regular voting retired Cobb Seniors, DO NOT BE SCARED into taxing of Cobb citizens to fund unneeded spending that the Chamber fat cats want to have done.

George123142141
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August 08, 2014
I think it would be kicking the can. But they have said that *supposedly* the cars are coming whether SPLOST passes or not. They are claiming it will just happen a lot faster if it passes. We'll see.
anonymous
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August 08, 2014
RIckUSA2012, if Cops in Cobb County are finding it too hard to work in a community where citizens are generally lawful, polite and respectful of police officers and are VERY highly likely to come home after each days shift...let them move on to that Law Enforcement Utopia that all of the union organizing types keep acting like exists somewhere.

Atlanta is just down the road, Officers! You are free to flee to your dream job!

What? Did you say You really don't like the BS that Atlanta PD has to offer for Police Officers? Not the kind of people you generally want to have to deal with each day? Did you say the people in the community do not really have much respect for police officers? DO you not like that the people in the community in Atlanta are more likely to actually shoot/hurt a police officers?

Stop the whining CCPD. Move on down the road if you are unhappy in Cobb --and take that union organizer Lance LoRusso with you.
RickUSA2012
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August 09, 2014
Anonymous, I don't have to go to Atlanta for anything. I did my time in Law Enforcement but not for Cobb. Now that being said I still have heard and seen this carrot dangled for the department that I did work for. Any time officers wanted more money this carrot comes out and then automatically disappears when the complaining stopped. Now as far as the money issues I know that these officers have not had a raise in at least 7 years which is too long. If you don't want to pay for public safety then you should move on down to Atlanta, me I would rather pay a living wage to these officers now.
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