Braves, Cobb set to handle safety needs, officials say
by Jon Gillooly
January 08, 2014 12:30 AM | 6968 views | 9 9 comments | 39 39 recommendations | email to a friend | print
VININGS — Atlanta Braves president John Schuerholz and County Chairman Tim Lee say they will be ready to handle the security needs of the new $672 million Major League Baseball stadium when it opens in 2017.

In a scathing resignation letter to County Manager David Hankerson on Monday, Jack Forsythe, the county’s public safety director, said his department lacks the resources needed to keep Cobb residents safe now, let alone when the new stadium and accompanying $400 million mixed-use development opens in 2017 down the road from the Cumberland Mall.

Lee says Forsythe is wrong.

“First of all, I want to make it clear that we are very safe, and the public should have a high level of confidence that we live in a secure community,” Lee said. “That has not been compromised at all.”

The county’s public safety department has a budget of $143.5 million, including 655 sworn firefighters and 609 sworn police officers.

Schuerholz said the Braves have their own in-house security department in addition to the 150 or so security staff hired on game days.

“There is a cadre of full-time employees that run that operation for us,” he said. “Then that’s expanded each time we have a game or any kind of activity at the stadium.”

The Braves use a mix of off-duty and on-duty Atlanta police officers on game days, he said.

“It’s part of running a major facility like this when hundreds of thousands of people are going to walk through your gate,” Schuerholz said. “You have to provide security. It’s expected and understood that it’s our responsibility in conjunction with one of the local law enforcement agencies whether it’s local police or state police or whatever it may be, so we understand that and we do it, and we do it well, and we’ve done it for a long time.”

Sharing the cost of security

When the Braves move to Cobb in 2017, Schuerholz said the cost of security operations will be shared with the county.

“It would be split,” he said. “We take on the primary burden of that. They may have some security folks that they have on duty as well. Ordinarily, it’s the team that runs the facility and the security.”

Lee, who sat with Schuerholz during the Vinings Business Association’s luncheon Tuesday, said security for the stadium would be a responsibility led by the Braves.

“We will obviously work in concert with them to have our full force available to them as we do with others, so it all is going to be coordinated as is every public safety public response issue that we currently have in the county and the region,” Lee said.

As in any development project that comes before commissioners, there will be a plan drawn up detailing what resources are needed. Those resources will not require a tax increase, Lee pledged.

“No, absolutely not,” Lee said. “The Braves stadium itself, the security for that property will be led by them and supported by us, and any incremental needs that we might have will be identified well in advance with enough time to train the appropriate people and get the appropriate equipment and make sure they are geared up, so as the development opens, we will have exactly in place what we need to have in place just like we’ve done with every development for the last 10 years.”

Lee dismissed Forsythe’s accusation that Hankerson blocked him from carrying out the kind of reforms needed to keep the county safe.

“For 20 years, Hankerson has led our county, he’s been the county manager over the public safety director for as many years as we’ve had it, going back to (Robert) Hightower being the first one,” Lee said. “We’ve had a strong reputation for the county manager working with public safety directors and we continue to do so. This is just a situation where I guess they just didn’t see eye to eye on some issues, but I know for a fact that Hankerson would not compromise the safety of the community because of any one individual.”

Lee said interim public safety director Sam Heaton has been charged with reviewing Forsythe’s concerns and bringing the Board of Commissioners any recommendations he believes are needed.

Comments
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Mike Johnson
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January 13, 2014
If Tim Lee say's everything is looking good in Cobb, you better get out the grease! The last time I heard that I was furloughed! The citizens in Cobb need to clean house and do it quickly. Tim Lee and David Hankerson only care about themselves and not the citizens of Cobb. Glad I had the chance to retire and get out that cesspool!
Not Good
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January 11, 2014
This is just the beginning of the end. There is no infrastructure to accommodate a mass incident in Cobb. With no trauma hospital in Cobb, seriously a stadium? Mass casualties? Cobb Commissioners will send you south to Grady. Why? This county can support a trauma unit which benefits everyone and is long overdue. A stadium will not benefit the masses without support.

Public Safety and Fire Rescue are paramount to the safety and security of Cobb County.
Double Standard
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January 08, 2014
After reading Tim Lee's comments today I feel like I got slapped in the face then told how good it was. I am a long time police officer in this county and I have worked hard over the last 2 years trying to save good employees from going elsewhere under the premise that things will get better. The comments today that all is good and we have 600 officers is a joke. It is not that he is uninformed but instead just doesn't care. For Lee to even suggest that things are not in a critical state or things are great is an outright lie! We get fired for those Mr. Chairman!

If the people want to know the true status of our department then find out how many of those 609 positions are filled by officers on the street. Go look at a precinct shift schedule and see how many beats are open because we don't have staff to fill it. Is there an officer to cover your territory tonight or today?

This is not new. All the commissioners have BEEN aware of this but neither the Public Safety Department or the citizens of the county are their priority.
Concerned Citizen
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January 08, 2014
This is the first time the Braves and Cobb County have ever worked together. And on a project of great magnitude. Is it going to work? Are they compatible? It already sounds confusing, disorganized, and thrown together loosely.
Equally Concerned
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January 08, 2014
Our police department is at a critical juncture and the loss of somebody who was actually trying to make something better is probably going to be the lodestone that will drag down this department.

The department can only train 50 new officers a year but is losing over 70. With the Braves stadium, the department will have to stand up an additional 150 officers. To start this, the department will have to double the intake and training starting right now to make that number.

However the department cannot even keep the people it has and has done nothing to start on this required path. I appreciate that the Braves will have their own on-site staff, but who is going to patrol the parking lots, the roadways, the walkways that people move to and through? what is the situation of crime at Six Flags Park that requires numerous officers just to stop the muggings and assaults in the parking lots. Do we really believe that the kindly gentleman in the Braves security jacket will be doing that?

One of the current issues that citizens do not see in the reduced force is the absolute lack of officers three times a day during shift changes. Currently all three shifts change at the same time because we do not have enough officers to have an overlap. If you want to commit a robbery, do it at 1400, 2200 or at 0600. All the officers, except at Precinct Two, will be at the precinct.

Our Chief has done a good job making an overlapping shift system at Precinct Two, where officers overlap at least four hours, ensuring new fresh officers available and willing to respond at all times. He cannot do this at the other precincts because he cannot fill the positions or keep people in position.

When we talk about morale problems, I would offer this example: I am working a four car wreck at rush hour, blocking go home traffic back about a half mile. I am going to work this by myself because no one else is available, but I am a very experienced officer and I can easily do this and get everybody home safe. My friend drives by in his new take home car from where he now works and honks. This officer that Cobb COunty spent over $500,000 to hire and train now works better hours, has better benefits, a new car to drive home and makes hundreds of dollars more a month than I do after working in Cobb for over fifteen years. Yes, I am also now looking for a new position.

Soon you will have a department of inexperienced new officers being taught and guided by equally new and inexperienced officers. Officers that will mean well but will make mistakes that will put the wrong people in jail, and cost the County money in lawsuits and the poor judgement of the citizens that they serve.

I beg you to consider what cost you chose to pay now for what you will be served by later. Do not throw away a fundamentally sound department for the petty games of the few.

I would be glad to give my true name, but the Cobb Way is to fire people who bring any discredit to the Department. (Code of Conduct 1.2)
Wake Up
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January 08, 2014
"Equally concerned" is "spot on."

I would also like to point out that the county manager and chairman are now discrediting the (former)Director of Public Safety whom THEY chose after a nationwide search of law enforcement professionals. This begs the question of whether THEY were incompetent in their selection OR whether he speaks the truth and THEY are now attempting to cover up that truth. Regardless of the answer, only in government service could such incompetence thrive.

The truth is that the police department faces a staffing crisis that must be remedied to ensure the public receives the police protection they deserve (and I deserve as a county resident). Beyond looking at all the documents mentioned in the Director's resignation letter, just look at police staffing reports by the DOJ/FBI and compare that to the staffing level in Cobb. Some reports suggest a national average of 2.7 sworn law enforcement officers per 1000 residents - Cobb is averaging approximately 1 law enforcement officer per 1000 residents.
iceman56
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January 08, 2014
Tim, you know full well that Jack Forsythe is correct in both the current status of the Cobb Police Department and the obstructionist methods of Hankerson. You are stuck with defending Hankerson after you voted to continue his employment. What kinda dirt does he have on you?
concernedfiveoh
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January 08, 2014
The issues brought to the fore front by Mr. Forsyth were not related to the Atlanta Braves as they have been plaguing the police department for several years prior to the conception of the deal. Mr. Lee you are wrong to mislead the citizens of Cobb County regarding the state of Public Safety. As I read your statement my first response was to say, "wake up" or "get your head out of the sand", but after thinking about it for a second I came to the realization that you could not possibly be in the position that you hold and not know about the problems. So I say, "Shame on you for purposely misleading the fine people of Cobb County". The police department will not survive another three years under the current conditions, at least the police department of the highly professional quality that the citizens of Cobb County have grown accustomed to over the years. "The county’s public safety department has a budget of $143.5 million, including 655 sworn firefighters and 609 sworn police officers" another misleading statement. While we may be funded for 609 officers, the police department currently only has 552 officers trained and working. There are currently 29 unfilled positions (the most ever) and 28 recruits currently in training. Not to mention the fact that officers are leaving the department at an alarming rate. You can’t compete with other agencies with your current benefit package. Here is a novel idea, if you want to know the state of the police department ask the police officers. They will tell you if given an opportunity why their morale is at an all time low. If you really care ask. You know the problems. Fix them. The time is now. It is critical.
0139
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January 08, 2014
Hankerson seems to have a hypnotic influence on the Commissioners (except for Ott). I worked for Cobb Police for 30 years and felt the wrath of Hankerson many times. He continually interfered with departmental operations and would not listen to those people who had the knowledge and expertise in the police and fire departments. I didn't know Jack Forsyth because I retired before he came on board, but he was said to have supported the troops in all three departments and was anxious to make things happen. What he said about Hankerson threaten him sounds absolutely right. And don't believe Lee either - Cobb PD is bleeding officers to better departments rapidly. We've become a training ground for other departments. Wake up Hankerson and Lee, before it's too late.

By the way, it sounds like the Braves plan to use Atlanta officers outside their jurisdiction. Better check the laws on that.
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