Vote to hire additional Cobb police was a step in the right direction
February 27, 2014 04:00 AM | 2161 views | 0 0 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Cobb County has prided itself for decades on having what is arguably the best-trained, best-equipped and most professional public safety department in the state. It has such an excellent reputation, in fact, that it has acted as something of a “mill,” churning out police officers whose training and professionalism makes them attractive hires for other jurisdictions.

The big winners in that scenario are the officers and those other jurisdictions.

Cobb taxpayers? Not so much.

They’ve been footing the not inconsiderable bill for training those officers, only to see many of them go elsewhere within a few years of starting. The county reportedly has been training 40 or so rookie officers a year for most of the past decade, but also has seen around 70 or so officers depart each year for greener pastures.

Matters came to a head with the January resignation of Public Safety Director Jack Forsythe, who went out with a scathing blast at the county commission and County Manager David Hankerson, accusing them of blocking his efforts to build the department up to its “authorized” strength. Forsythe unfortunately managed to muddy the water by attributing his resignation to Hankerson’s refusal to grant him a major increase in salary. The public was left to wonder how much of his complaints about manpower were legitimate and how much were “sour grapes.”

The public got its answer on Tuesday when the commission voted unanimously to hire 40 additional police trainees for the present 609-person department. A second batch of 40 additional officers would be hired in 2015 or 2016, according to Commission Chairman Tim Lee.

The cost of bringing on and training 40 officers in their first year is $3.3 million, and $2.7 million after that. Lee has said the county will be able to add the officers without a tax increase.

The larger department that results should allow new Police Chief John Houser to get close to his goal of having officers on a four-day, 10-hour schedule, as opposed to the present five-day, eight-hour schedule. That should both cut down on overtime pay and result in more officers on the streets, he has said.

While those steps should address concerns about manpower, those about the department’s pay scale, and about keeping it competitive, remain.

“Some of the concerns and comments that came forward were items that we have been reviewing in the last couple weeks under the direction of (Public Safety Chief) Sam Heaton and Chief Houser,” Lee said. “Today was the first step in response to those concerns and we will aggressively address the other open issues as quickly as we possibly can.”

Cobb has experienced steadily increasing crime rates in recent years, thanks to a combination of factors including demographic changes, its proximity to the City of Atlanta and the fact that it sits astride three major interstates. It’s not a “quiet bedroom community” anymore and hasn’t been for a long time, if indeed it ever really was.

It’s thus incumbent on the commission to maintain a department that is professional and as savvy as possible, and one that retains the officers it has paid to train. The county government doesn’t invest comparable money to train most of those in its other departments, and it’s no big deal to taxpayers if its bureaucrats chase after a higher salary working somewhere else. Policing, though, is a field in which having a thorough knowledge of a community and its people is vital. So it makes sense for public safety salaries to be kept at a competitive level, rather than see what amounts to a “skill drain” as other jurisdictions cherry-pick Cobb’s force.

The commission’s decision this week was a strong first step in the right direction. We’ll be watching to see what happens next.

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