Griffin Police: Departmental culture, ineffectiveness cited as significant issues necessitating restructuring

SHEILA MATHEWS :::

Ineffectiveness at the Griffin Police Department – this is what some Griffin commissioners are now citing as the driving force behind their support of a proposed restructuring plan that is scheduled to be voted upon at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

“It’s not so much about immediate savings; it’s future savings. It’s about the culture at the Police Department,” said Commissioner Doug Hollberg. “There’s a lack of initiative to get these people off the streets and it’s been going on year after year. I’m tired of having my character assassinated because people don’t want to do their jobs.”

Asked to describe his reference to the Police Department’s culture, Hollberg said, “To me, it’s people not getting the job done as effectively as possible, and pointing their finger at others, including me.”

As a local business owner, resident and commissioner, he said he has for years been negatively affected by crime, and believes the GPD should be more attentive to the issue.

“I’m tired. Other business owners and I are tired of having our property destroyed. We have to beg and plead to have our assets – our property – protected,” Hollberg said. “I’m tired of filing police reports and nothing being done.”

He said he and other city officials are taking steps to improve Griffin and make it a “wholesome community,” and that means getting to what he views as the root of the crime problem – those he openly refers to as thugs, dope slingers and punks.

“We need this lawlessness to be over. We need our property protected. We need to eliminate the problem. We need to address the people who don’t want to live by a standard,” Hollberg said. “We want this town cleaned up. We want people to be held accountable for doing their job. It seems like someone could be proactive and keep these people off the streets.”

He said he calls the nonemergency 911 line weekly to report crowds on Central Avenue, as well as calling at other times to relate constituents’ concerns.

“Why do we keep doing things the same way? Why can’t we think outside the box? It’s not about driving around town in a black and white patrol car. We’ve got to be proactive, not reactive,” Hollberg said.

Also of concern to Hollberg is what he referred to as a decrease in productivity as evidenced by a decrease in revenue resulting from the issuance of fewer citations. He said thus far, city revenue is down approximately $300,000.

“Our accident rates have gone up, and our injury rate has gone up, too, because citations are down so much,” Hollberg said. “We look at it on a month-to-month basis and wonder why the trend is going down.”

Commissioner Dick Morrow said he, too, believes changes must be made in order to address the root of Griffin’s crime problem. However, he does not share Hollberg’s critical view of the Police Department’s performance.

Asked if the PD’s arrest and case clearance rates have decreased, Morrow said, “No, I don’t think they have.”

He said he does not view the Police Department as being ineffective, but that although officers do a “good job of reacting to crime,” it does not cut crime.

He went on to say, “What we’ve seen over the years is a continuing crime problem in this community. If stepped up Code Enforcement works, good. I don’t know if anything is going to fix this and I’ll tell you why. In my opinion, we’re living in a time when personal responsibility and following the rules is not in vogue. You can see it in schools and everywhere else. I don’t have the answer to fix that in society. I’ve seen it for a very long time. It’s taken my lifetime to get there. In the entitlement society we’re in, where it’s all about them, it’s a whole different society.”

Morrow said he is hopeful the increased Code Enforcement efforts that will result from the hiring of one new officer for that department will tackle the root of the issue, but that only time will tell.

“If you keep Code Enforcement people in the neighborhood, pressing people on the little stuff, the big stuff goes away,” he proposed. “Is it going to work? I really don’t know. If you keep up pressure, can you change it? Hopefully. No guarantees, but if you don’t have a plan, you have nothing.”

Commissioner Cynthia Reid-Ward also spoke on the proposed restructuring plan, saying she supports change at the Police Department, but disagrees with Hollberg’s negative view of officers’ job performance.

“We do have some problems, but I don’t agree with what that commissioner (Hollberg) is saying. There are some things that have gone on at the Police Department that do warrant making some changes,” she said.

Asked to elaborate on that claim, Reid-Ward declined, saying, “No, I would not like to elaborate, and the reason being, we have a proposal for restructuring that’s being brought to us – I believe tomorrow – and we’ll have an opportunity to discuss what we want to do then…..There is a culture at the Police Department that has to be changed.”

Unlike Hollberg, Reid-Ward was unwilling to clarity on the record what that culture means to her, but said she would do so after the formal PD restructuring vote has been taken.

When told that Griffin City Manager Kenny Smith has identified budgetary concerns and too many high-ranking officers as two of the primary reasons for the restructuring proposal, Reid-Ward said, “Is that what Mr. Smith told you? Well, then I want to go on the record saying I agree with him. If that’s what he said, that’s what it is. Whatever decision he’s made, I support it.”

Morrow also said he supports Smith’s efforts.

“I applaud Kenny (Smith) for the new paradigm,” Morrow said.

Hollberg, too, has stated he affirms Smith’s proposal.

“Kenny Smith is the best thing that ever came to Griffin, as far as I’m concerned,” he said, recounting being part of Smith’s hiring process. “I stood behind him then and will continue to stand behind him.”

Commissioner Shaheer Beyah and Commissioner Cora Flowers could not be reached for comment. Commission Chairman Joanne Todd and Commissioner Ryan McLemore declined to comment publicly prior to Tuesday night’s 6 p.m. BoC meeting, during which the restructuring proposal will be presented.

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