One of the ongoing discussions — still without an ultimate solution — is what the Polk County Commission will do to keep law enforcement officers on the job and fill vacancies within the organization in the months and years to come.
A challenge for all police departments around the country, attrition within the Polk County Police Department specifically has brought the force down to just 20 officers assigned to patrol duty, not nearly enough to ensure they are all getting to take vacation time.
This specific problem was one County Manager Matt Denton has hopes of providing at least a small amount of relief for local officers who are working overtime on a regular basis by ensuring that if they have time off left over, they get paid for it.
Right now the policy works out to allow for officers to get overtime for when they have reached their limit for regular working hours for the week during shifts. Since officers are required to be on the job around the clock during shifts, they don’t get to take holidays off and are instead promised time off later.
With the situation as it is currently and not enough officers on the force for everyone to take a vacation, they are losing time off and not getting compensated for it.
“You only get to take 80 hours of vacation a year, or two weeks,” Denton said. “So right now when they don’t get to take normal vacations because of the amount of overtime they are working, they are losing that time they should be getting paid for holidays.”
Commissioners agreed that officers should be getting paid for their time on holidays since they aren’t getting to take them after, and Denton promised quick action to have something for the board to vote on in the coming weeks.
The amount of hours total for the entire force equaled about 1,300 hours of time officers haven’t been compensated for due to overtime work and being unable to take vacations.
Officer retention was an issues new Commissioner Hal Floyd was deeply interested in during his first board retreat. He sought answers on how many officers should be employed by the force per 1,000 residents in the county. Polk County Police Assistant Chief Kiki Evans told Floyd the department should have 1.5 officers per 1,000 people, but those numbers were well off for the total force employed currently. As of last week, that figure stood at just more than 40 officers in uniform total, including administrators.
Floyd pointed to a recent article in the Rome News-Tribune about pay rates for officers in the area and COPS — or the Compensation of Police and Sheriffs task force — appointed by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.
He wanted to know whether that study would be helpful in local police retaining officers, and added that he said prior to his appointment as the District 3 commissioner his top item to work on was ensuring public safety came first. County Attorney Brad McFall also cited the county’s previous audit of police officers and the repeated comments about pay disparity between the Polk County Police Department and other surrounding agencies as a point of contention for those serving today and in the past on the force.
Commissioners also used the retreat discussions to bring up police vehicle spending, hoping to take part in a program to get surplus Federal vehicles for use by officers as an alternative to making new purchases from dealerships to replace older patrol cars in the county’s fleet.
Former Assistant County Manager Barry Akinson had been tasked to work with the City of Cedartown — who has utilized the Federal surplus program to get three vehicles in the past year — on getting into the program.
Denton told commissioners he was unsure on how far he progressed on getting involved in that program.
Commissioner Jose Iglesias praised the idea and suggested that among the first items the county should seek are getting a larger vehicle for Police Chief Kenny Dodd.
He cited Dodd’s recent run-in with a truck after pulling over to help a mother and child in past months as one reason why the chief should get a bigger vehicle.
Denton also cited that due to the Commission’s past comments on seeking to have more purchases of items like vehicles or printers made at once, using the surplus program could help with that and provide not just police vehicles, but many for other departments.
Though not brand new, the vehicles typically come with low mileage. Stipulations are in place for how any surplus item can be used if received from the federal surplus program, and how long they must be kept before being sold again or turned back over to the federal government.
Other items of note
The board retreat wasn’t just all about the landfill, retirement and talk of the police department. Here’s some other bullet points of note from the hours-long retreat on Nov. 28:
- Commissioners heard a brief update on a request from the City of Rockmart to establish a Land Bank. Previously only Rockmart officials showed interest in the idea, but now Cedartown has also joined in. The land banks can be used to take in property purchased by the city or donated and resold without having to go through lengthy bid processes. Denton said he was waiting on Rockmart officials to complete needed paperwork before he brings it back to the Commission for establishment.
- Automated Electronic Defribullators — or AEDs — will be installed in the Polk County administration offices and in the courthouses free of charge thanks to Redmond Regional Medical Center’s ambulance service. Denton told commissioners the AEDs are being installed without cost thanks to Deputy Coroner and local Redmond EMS manager Marty Robinson, who saw the need after finding out AEDs in the courthouse were out of date, and found none in the administration building. Denton added county employees will be trained in their use for free as well. It saves the county a $1,000 per item charge.
- Maintenance is needed on the county’s public safety radio system used by police, firefighters, ambulances and other officials. Motorola, the company who manufactured the system, quoted a price of more than $7,000 to cover the cost of firmware upgrades and the technicians needed to make the needed software updates. Denton added the company also showed off new hardware which will be standard in the coming years, likely requiring additional purchases of equipment for public safety in the coming years.
- A discussion over the county’s EMS contract with Redmond Regional Medical Center will need a further look in the weeks to come as Denton cited a need to get working on a new request for proposals from organizations who might be interested in taking over the business from Redmond. Though it doesn’t mean Redmond will lose the county’s business, they are required every 10 years to revisit the agreement and potentially renegotiate the deal with the Rome-area hospital for providing ambulance service to county residents. Commissioner Jose Iglesias used the topic to remind his fellow board members that they should continue to focus efforts on ensuring that contract negotiations are done in the best interest of the county.