Austell Police Chief Scott Hamilton told the city council that the shortage of available officers creates a danger to residents of the city, and the inability to respond quickly to a critical event such as an active shooter. He has a request in to the council for an additional seven positions at an estimated cost of $435,000.
“The gist of what the police department is asking is for more manpower,” Hamilton said. “We compared our manpower now to 20 years ago, we still have the same amount of police officers on the street that we did two decades ago.”
“Obviously, the population has increased, call volume has increased, dangers have increased,” he said. “Nowadays, police officers can’t respond to a normal dispatch without two police officers.”
He said that the morning of the council meeting, a lieutenant and an officer had called in sick, requiring other individuals to work on their days off.
“Thank goodness they were available because if not I don’t know what we would have done,” Hamilton said. “We wouldn’t have even had the people to cover one 911 call.”
“So we’re at a very desperate right now,” he said.
Hamilton said that data from the Flock cameras spread around the city showed that about 2 million cars came through the city in a month at the beginning of the year and that many of the crimes in the city are committed by individuals who are passing through.
“it’s not so much about 8000 citizens that we have in our city that we’re worried about,” he said. “It’s the 2 million people that are coming through in any given month …”
“We’re asking for seven police positions to open up,” he said. “You have before you the dollar amount roundabout. He said the cost would be around $435,000.”
“We will be willing to just take whatever we can get at this point,” Hamilton said.
When he completed the presentation, Mayor Pro Tem Valerie Anderson questioned the council.
“This is very concerning about being understaffed by public safety,” Anderson asked. “So my question is, should we hold off on annexation in any more redevelopment until we get staff in our public safety with police and fire?”
“Because this is very dangerous,” she said.
“And, Mayor, you made the comment that we have a hefty rainy day fund,” Anderson said. “This is a hurricane.”
“When can you tap into the rainy day? Because this is critical. Having two officers it’s not safe. So what do we do?” she asked.
Mayor Ollie Clemons said that while the rainy day fund could be used for hiring staff, the fund can’t sustain future costs of hiring for the new positions, and that would be part of the budget talks moving forward.
“When we find ourselves in a critical situation, we do we have a mutual aid agreement … the Sheriff’s Office has agreed to give us resources if we need resources when we’re in a very critical situation,” Clemons said.
“But the reason Chief Hamilton is bringing this forward now is because we’re about to go into the budgetary process to look at public safety in its entirety as to how we can move forward with adding additional staffing and what that looks like,” Clemons said.
Councilman Marlin Lamar asked if department command staff could fill in during emergencies. Hamilton said he and other command staff were capable of doing it, but that would interfere with their role in supervising the emergency response, and that it’s inefficient because it would take time for the command staff to get into the field while the event was unfolding.