Covington’s population and the number of people needing help from the police are growing, even if the police force isn’t because of a string of tight budgets in recent years.
The question of whether the Covington Police Department needs more officers is in part dependent on what kind of police force city officials and residents are willing to pay for.
Police Chief Stacey Cotton said the city is experiencing growing pains as it gets larger, because the crime rate and number of calls for non-crimes such as traffic accidents are increasing, but the public still wants and expects help with traditional tasks, such as getting keys out of a locked car, responding to accidents on private property (like businesses’ parking lots) and escorting funerals.
A lot of metro agencies don’t respond to accidents on private property or help with car lockouts, Cotton said, but he added that the public loves those services.
In addition, a lot of local banks ask the police to stand guard when employees reload ATMs with cash.
That was fine when there were only a few banks, Cotton said, but it’s become more difficult as the number of companies grows. Banks in Atlanta hire private security, he said.
Cotton said he wasn’t making a suggestion either way but said the conversation was one the council and police department should have at some point.
Cotton gave a presentation to the Covington City Council Monday to address concerns about staffing.
He said the department has been short-staffed at times because the hiring process doesn’t always allow for vacancies to be filled quickly.
For instance, the department currently has three officers in training, two injured officers on light duty (one of whom is being switched to civilian duty for health reasons), two officers set to retire, and one officer who will be deployed to the Middle East in the fall with the National Guard.
The department can have up to 54 sworn officers, but only 52 positions are funded currently; it also has nine civilian staff members.
The police department can’t hire an officer until there is an official opening, and it can’t send an officer to academy training until he or she has been hired.
In addition, the academy has tightened rules and Covington has to send recruits to its designated academy in Athens, which is free, or it can pay $3,600 per recruit to send them to another academy in the metro area.
The Athens police academy only has four different sessions per year, which can make it difficult for hiring schedules to line up.
Cotton said he avoids paying money to send recruits to another academy to keep costs down.
The academy takes 11 weeks to complete, followed by 11 weeks of internal training required by the Covington department. Councilman Chris Smith asked about the academy at Georgia Piedmont Technical College. Cotton said the police could use it, but it not only costs money, but is longer at 17 weeks.
Normally, young recruits looking to break into the field go to the Georgia Piedmont academy on their own dime, Cotton said.
One benefit is that the department’s new take-home car policy has helped it attract better officers from other areas, who are used to a take-home car system, he said.
While the department has done its own analysis as to how many officers it needs, Cotton said he is bringing in an expert from the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police to analyze its staffing situation.