Then-Public Safety Director Jack Forsythe announced his resignation via a public letter Jan. 6 that stated the county police force was in “crisis” mode due to lack of resources and blistered the commission and County Manager David Hankerson for blocking his efforts to address those shortcomings.
Forsythe said the department was losing officers faster than it could replace them, was serving as an expensive training ground for officers who then would leave for better-paying jobs in neighboring counties and noted the department was hard-pressed to find enough detectives to work on homicides, gang investigations and “sexploitation” crimes.
The Commission promoted Fire Chief Sam Heaton to succeed Forsythe, and with the PD’s problems now front and center — and with most of those running for county commission this summer making public safety improvements their top issue — the commission slowly began addressing them.
The first small step was the decision in March to create 40 additional positions in the department and purchase 55 more police vehicles, still well short of what is needed.
Next was a report from Heaton early this month laying out a comprehensive plan for addressing the department’s perceived problems. The commission agreed Tuesday, via its vote to approve the county budget for FY15, to begin implementing the recommendations of that report. The new budget does not increase taxes.
The commission, first of all, agreed to bring the department to full staffing levels by hiring 232 officers by Jan. 1, 2017. The FY15 budget starts by including funds to hire three police captains, two fire marshals, an animal cruelty investigator, a crime-analysis coordinator and a senior crime-scene technician.
The budget will include money to buy 37 more vehicles and to train four classes of police recruits per year rather than the current two, thereby getting new officers on the street more quickly.
Another change will be the implementation of higher “shift differential” pay for those working less-desirable evening and night shifts. The budget includes $1.3 million for the cost of that change.
The budget also includes money for the costs of converting Cobb Police Precinct 3 in southeastern Cobb to a 10-hour-shift, four-day-a-week schedule by next May. South Cobb’s Precinct 2 has already gone to that schedule and the plan is for the entire department to do so by the end of 2016. The change translates to a four-day work week for officers and hopefully will improve officer retention.
Another change in that regard will be the earmarking of $12.3 million to expand the department’s take-home car program, although the funds for that would come not from the General Fund but from the hoped-for passage of the SPLOST referendum this November.
All told, the changes approved Tuesday should go far toward tackling problems the commission had allowed to go unaddressed for too long.
“I think it’s going to have a positive impact across the board on all public safety,” Heaton said after Tuesday’s vote.
Cobb has long had one of Georgia’s best-run and best-equipped public safety departments. The changes approved this week should go far toward addressing any recent shortcomings.