Law enforcement consolidation planning already under way

Early work to merge the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office and Macon Police Department already has begun, weeks before the consolidation transition team is fully formed.

Sheriff Jerry Modena has met with an internal “think tank” of sheriff’s office employees to field ideas and suggestions about the merger, and he’s researching the resources of both departments.

Modena said he plans to expand the group to include leaders from both departments and eventually include officers of all ranks in future sessions. He said he’ll take the feedback he gets to official transition team meetings.

“It’s a monumental task. I know it’s not something I can do by myself,” Modena said. “It’s going to take a lot of work.”

So far, Modena said he hasn’t consulted with Macon police regarding the merger.

“I think it would be premature,” he said.

At the police department, Chief Mike Burns is cautioning officers against putting too much stock in rumors they may be hearing.

“Right now, nobody knows anything,” he said. “I’ve been telling my department it’s too early to worry.”

Burns said he’s not actively seeking a job and would consider a new post in the consolidated law enforcement agency.

“If (the new sheriff) offers me a job under the right circumstances, I would stay around and make sure the transition goes smooth for a little while,” he said.

Before the July 31 vote, Burns had said he’d start looking for a job if consolidation passed.

Other officers, he said, have started looking for jobs elsewhere.

Burns said he hopes the transition team addresses employees’ concerns early to prevent the retirement and resignation of valuable officers.

Besides the seasoned, veteran officers eligible for retirement, the police department has a number of young officers who would be valuable recruits for other law enforcement agencies. They’re already trained and have on-the-job experience, Burns said.

Two officers have resigned and taken jobs at other departments since the consolidation vote. Burns said he can’t link the departures to the vote, though.

Modena said the new, consolidated agency can’t afford to lose experienced officers.

“Those city officers have shown they have leadership. They do the work,” he said. “They’ve got to be assured they’re not going to lose their pay. They’re not going to be thrown out the door.”

Burns and Modena agree that the transition team has a number of decisions to make, ranging from consolidating crime labs, traffic units, record-keeping offices and SWAT teams to setting new patrol boundaries and equalizing officers’ pay.

While those decisions are being made, Burns said the police department will continue its work to lower the city’s crime rate.

So far, 2012 is on pace to have the lowest crime rate on record for the city, he said.

Overall crime is down 14 percent compared with this time in 2011. Reports of burglaries, thefts, car thefts, car break-ins and arsons have decreased, according to police crime statistics.

The number of homicides has increased by two, and 10 more rapes have been reported. Aggravated assaults are up by six and robberies have remained relatively the same.

In unincorporated Bibb County, crimes reported through July show a 13.5 percent decrease compared with the same point in 2011. Reports of homicides, rapes, robberies, burglaries, thefts, car thefts and car break-ins are down. The number of aggravated assaults has increased by 12, and arsons are up by five reports, according to sheriff’s office statistics.

Modena said he realizes that his successor could reverse any decisions he makes concerning consolidation between now and Dec. 31.

“I know my time is short. I will do everything I can,” he said.

Absent a certified write-in candidate, Chief Deputy David Davis will become the next sheriff.

Davis said consolidating the two departments “is not a takeover.”

“You’re taking two good agencies that have a lot of good people and you’re going to blend them together,” he said.

Burns and other police department leaders will play important roles in the transition, Davis said. He reserved further comment until after the election.

Modena said he hopes to give the new sheriff a head start -- and to keep doing the job voters elected him to do.

“It’s a risk, I understand,” he said.

To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.