Deeper PD cuts were suggested by other municipalities’ chiefs

SHEILA A. MATHEWS :::

With the recent restructuring of the Griffin Police Department, manpower needs have come to the forefront of discussions among residents, but local officials have been considering the issue for a number of years.

Determination of manpower needs

Prior to the restructuring, City Manager Kenny Smith provided commissioners with data comparing Griffin’s overall general fund budget and Police Department budget and staffing level with those of the cities of McDonough, LaGrange, Newnan and Forest Park. However, he acknowledges that is not an effective way to determine law enforcement staffing needs.

“Population only is definitely an ineffective way to determine manpower needs, however, when you look at other factors you must ask why? If you have a jurisdiction with similar populations but less officers, why do they have less officers? Due to a lower crime rate? Why do they have a lower crime rate? Demographics? Geography? Allocation of current manpower?” Smith said. “My point is that we as a city have to get to the root cause of why we need more officers than other similar-sized jurisdictions and work to eliminate what causes that need. Why would I want to live or maintain a business (and pay taxes) in a jurisdiction that requires a $9 million police budget when I can live in a comparatively-sized community that requires only a $5 million police budget?”

Law enforcement experts, such as Frank Rotondo, the executive director of the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police (GACP), say to determine the answer to those questions, a full manpower needs assessment must be conducted.

“To conduct a true evaluation, you have to go on-site,” Rotondo said. “There are many factors and variables that must be considered. It’s time consuming and it’s also very expensive…Staff analysis are only as good as the data that’s provided to the analyst.”

However, through an Open Records request, The Grip received email correspondence from Rotondo to Smith regarding a recommendation made prior to the PD’s restructuring.

He said Smith submitted a copy of the Police Department’s organizational chart, which he said indicated it was heavy in the upper ranks.

“He (Smith) just wanted to get my take on the staffing of the Griffin Police Department,” Rotondo said. “Frankly, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that it’s overstaffed.”

According to Rotondo, that is common in Georgia as oftentimes, departments will promote officers as a means of providing a pay increase.

“They would try to compensate them by giving them a promotion or a special assignment,” he said.

He acknowledged the recommendation he submitted to Smith was not a comprehensive analysis, but rather “a really quick look,” but says he believes the restructuring was necessary.

“I think this was needed. It will be a leaner and tighter Police Department. It all comes down to money – how much money do they want to invest,” Rotondo said.

Smith received advice to make deeper cuts

Among the recommendations made was the elimination of the two major’s positions that headed the Uniform Patrol and Criminal Investigation divisions. Also questioned was the need for the PD’s current investigative staffing level. The GPD currently has a total of 27 certified officers, with five assigned to crimes against property; five assigned to crimes against persons; seven assigned to Special Investigations, which includes narcotics and gangs; three in crime scene investigation; two assigned to crimes against juveniles; two school resource officers and one DARE officer; and two working in the Warrant Division.

In his email recommendation to Smith, Rotondo’s report questioned those numbers, stating a department’s investigative division is typically comprised of 10 to 12 percent of the numbers assigned to the Uniform Patrol Division. The GPD currently has 56 positions assigned to UPD, which would equate to an investigative staffing level six to seven total investigators rather than its current level of 27.

A second email Smith received from Chief Lou Dekmar, of the LaGrange Police Department, also recommended a staffing reduction.

“After receiving the Griffin Police Department’s organizational chart, it is my opinion that there is a significant and disproportionate representation of ranking positions constituting the organizational leadership structure of the agency,” Dekmar wrote. “As a result, there is a substantial loss or deficit in the agency’s efficiency, which compromises effective operations.”

Dekmar’s recommendations included the elimination of 12 ranking positions including two majors, one captain, four lieutenants and five sergeants. In addition, Dekmar recommended the reclassification of corporals as senior patrol officers unless they have roles as field training officers or supervisors. He stated if the corporals do have that capacity, four are not needed for each of the GPD’s Uniform Patrol shifts.

’07 and ’08 Manpower studies showed understaffing

Other than the recommendations Smith received prior to the PD’s December restructuring, the most recent manpower needs analyses were conducted in 2007 and 2008.

Both studies utilized data that is now years old, so the numbers would not accurately represent current staffing needs, but the 2007 study indicated the need to add 35 officers to the Uniform Patrol Division, which was then staffed by 56, and the need to add four investigators to CID’s staff, which then stood at 18.

That study, conducted by Brian Childress, who now serves as chief of the Valdosta Police Department, also included interviews with personnel of both divisions as well as command staff.

“Based on interviews with personnel of the Griffin Police Department, it appears there is a consensus that morale often suffers because of heavy and increased workloads. Specifically, supervisors and officers in the (Uniform Patrol) division routinely complain because they are routinely responding from call to call with little or no time for administration duties and to accomplish the department’s goals of community policing,” Childress reported, adding that a focused conservative approach was used in the study in an effort not to exaggerate numbers and magnify the issue of needed manpower. “However, data collected supports the general consensus of personnel in the department and members of the patrol division, which is the existing personnel does not match the workload received.”

After conducting interviews, Childress reported similar findings regarding morale in the Criminal Investigation Division.

“Specifically, supervisors and detectives in the bureau have routinely complained because they handle a heavy workload. Specifically, in some instances, detectives maintain an open case load for extended periods of time, which results in delays in presenting cases for prosecution and delays in providing closure to victims,” Childress reported.

The 2008 study utilized five methods of evaluating the PD’s staffing needs including the ratio of officers per 1,000 residents, comparative analysis, functional analysis, modified workload analysis and equal workload analysis.

A letter written by GPD Chief Frank Strickland to Smith dated May 21, 2008, cites the modified workload method, which is utilized by both the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the GACP, as well as the equal workload analysis, which is utilized by the Georgia Public Safety Training Center, as indicating the need for 26 additional UPD officers and 10 investigators.

Strickland acknowledged the comparative analysis did not indicate that need, but took exception to that method.

He said the comparisons included two affluent municipalities – Carrolton and Statesboro – and Forest Park, which had the ability to call for backup from 186 county police officers.

“I believe the Police Department should be left alone with the manpower it currently has, to be able to provide the services required by our community’s population makeup,” Strickland wrote. “And I humbly submit to you that we are short of manpower to do the job the way it needs to be done. We are also aware we are not going to get any more officers, but only ask to keep what we have in place.”

After citing his department’s manpower needs and the basis for his professional conclusion, Strickland wrote, “The unrealistic workload requirements also affect our high turnover rate, which affects training costs and a lack of manpower…Officer safety and public safety are my issues of greatest concern. We are only just barely providing those two things right now.”

GPD experiences high turnover rate

The high turnover rate Strickland referenced was also evaluated through an Open Records request for personnel information. The data received indicated that since Jan. 1, 2008, six POST-certified officers have retired from the GPD while 52 have resigned. The current staffing of certified personnel stands at 86.

In a Tuesday morning meeting, Smith and Strickland said neither is concerned about the turnover rate because it typically represents the officers who have not served long.

“Your turnovers are the bottom end of the rank structure,” Strickland said. “It’s been in the police officers positions.”

Smith said he views the turnover rate in part as being spurred by officers who seek to advance more rapidly than can realistically occur.

“The younger generation we have now, they expect to be promoted within a year,” Smith said, referencing the police department as a paramilitary organization of which not everyone can be the boss.

They then addressed the current rank structure, which is still viewed as rank heavy.

Smith said over 50 percent of GPD personnel are supervisors with the rank of corporal or higher.

“Under a normal span of control, a supervisor should supervise six to eight people,” he said. “You have to have an organizational structure that says you have one of these, two of these, three of these and four of these.”

In accordance with Rotondo’s assessment, he said in order to boost morale, promotions have been used in the past as opportunities for advancement.

“Sometimes, the only way they would get a raise was through some sort of advancement. You have to balance employee morale and opportunity for advancement with I have X number of supervisory positions,” Smith said. “It’s a difficult and delicate balance.”

Strickland stated that when he came to the GPD, the rank structure was heavier than it is now.

“There were 26 corporal positions here when I got here (in 2002). I’ve created no new positions; I haven’t added any rank to the structure since I got here. We’ve eliminated a lot of those quietly.”

No more changes until new police chief hired

Strickland said there are now 18 or 19 corporal positions, and that two sergeant’s positions have also been eliminated.

“Some of that has been out of design – just not put back,” he said in reference to officer attrition, adding that those positions were not eliminated, but reclassified as patrol officers.

However, there are now fewer officer positions, Strickland said. At one time, UPD consisted of 65 personnel, and it now has 56 when fully staffed. Three patrol officer positions have been vacant for approximately 2 ½ to three months, and he said they will not be filled until a new chief is hired.

“I think that’s prudent,” Strickland said.

With regard to the staffing recommendations he sought prior to the PD restructuring, Smith said he often seeks the counsel of other professionals whom he respects, but he is uncertain if there will be further personnel cuts.

“Everybody has their own methods of operation and idea. That’s why I asked these people. I just wanted some validity that what I was thinking wasn’t just pulled out of thin air. I wanted validation,” he said. “My philosophy – it’s very rare that I just pull something out of my butt and run with it.”

While the restructuring plan adopted by the Griffin Board of Commissioners did fall in line with the recommendations he received, Smith said he cannot say if he will follow along with the suggestions of additional cuts, specifically Dekmar’s plan that would eliminate four lieutenants, five sergeants and reclassify a number of corporals.

“To get down to that level is what the new chief will come in and investigate and make a determination. Once you get down to sergeants and corporals and who answers to who, if there are changes that can make us do a better job more efficiently, then that’s what we’re open to looking at.”

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