Staffing shortage in Forsyth Police Department has chief on patrol

awomack@macon.comFebruary 12, 2014 

The combination of a yearlong hiring freeze and officer departures has left the Forsyth Police Department with a third fewer officers than it had four years ago.

In 2010, when Chief Keith Corley started work, the department had 19 sworn officers. Now, through a combination of officers leaving for various reasons and a hiring freeze that lasted for all of 2013, the department has 12 officers on the payroll.

An additional officer is deployed for military service, bringing the total number of officers to 11, Corley said.

Investigators and top brass, including the chief, have taken to the roads to keep a minimum of two officers on patrol.

“Ideally, we’d like three,” Corley said. “Our patrol is our major function.”

Corley said he hasn’t seen an impact in crime or response times due to the staffing shortage.

“We provide the same service, but we’re not able to do the other things that we do,” he said.

Frank Rotondo is executive director of the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police. He has been in Atlanta lately acting as a legislative liaison, monitoring bills that may affect police departments across the state.

Determining the staffing needs for a city is a complex process, he said, including variables such as number of service calls, the types of calls and the times of service. Sick and vacation days are other variables.

The Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police conducts staffing analyses for police departments and they are expensive -- at about $5,000 for a city like Forsyth, Rotondo said -- but an understaffed department can lead to overworked and unhappy officers and possibly higher crime rates.

Without adequate numbers, police officers spend the majority of their time answering service calls and not conducting proactive patrols, such as having a presence at high school football games, stopping by schools or visiting small businesses, Rotondo said.

“These are the things you sacrifice when you cut back on staffing,” he said.

Forsyth City Council members lifted the hiring freeze in January, and the department hopes to have new officers hired this month, Corley said.

New officers who have already completed police academy still must spend four to six weeks in a Forsyth police field training program to learn the department’s policies and how to navigate Forsyth. New hires who haven’t completed police academy must pass a 10- to 11-week course and the police department’s field training program before going out on patrol.

Rotondo called Corley “a very accomplished law enforcement administrator” and said the Forsyth City Council’s best move is to follow his recommendations when it comes to department staffing, but choosing and training the right job candidates also is important.

“If you hire marginal officers, you end up with a marginal department,” he said.

Staff writer Andres David Lopez contributed to this report. To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.

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