Attorney, Lee at odds over Cobb Police problems
by Ricky Leroux
July 28, 2014 04:00 AM | 9141 views | 31 31 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Attorney Lance LoRusso at the Cobb police facility at South Marietta Parkway and Cherokee Street. LoRusso was a friend of Robert E. Hightower, whose memorial is in front of the building in Marietta.<br>Staff/Jeff Stanton
Attorney Lance LoRusso at the Cobb police facility at South Marietta Parkway and Cherokee Street. LoRusso was a friend of Robert E. Hightower, whose memorial is in front of the building in Marietta.
Staff/Jeff Stanton
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MARIETTA — A former police officer and attorney for the Cobb County Fraternal Order of Police recently spoke out against the Cobb Board of Commissioners for what he calls a lack of attention to the problems with the Cobb Police department.

Lance LoRusso, counsel for the Cobb County lodge of the FOP, general counsel for the Georgia FOP and a former police officer, made a presentation regarding the problems the county’s police force faces to the commissioners during the public comment section of their meeting Tuesday.

The biggest issue facing the department is officer retention, LoRusso told the MDJ, and he was critical of the Board of Commissioners, saying the issue has not been a focus of theirs over the last five to six years.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Tim Lee disagreed, saying the commissioners are aware of the retention issue and Sam Heaton, the county’s director of Public Safety, is working on recommendations the commissioners hope to address in the county’s budget for the next fiscal year, which Lee hopes the board will approve next month.

“(Heaton has) basically worked with me and (County Manager David) Hankerson over the last couple of months, with (Cobb Police) Chief (John) Houser putting all that together. He’s made a recommendation to myself and to Hankerson that we are reviewing, and (we) hope to come back with some type of program to help him address his retention needs in the next few weeks.”

LoRusso said the retention issue is critical because the shortage of officers available to patrol takes away from the department’s other responsibilities.

“They’re now reactive, not proactive,” he said at the meeting. “They’re waiting for the next call or crisis. You have special units answering calls because that’s all they can do just to get them done. You have detective units that are so short (staffed) they’re not investigating burglaries, they’re working beats.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, LoRusso said 35 sworn employees have retired from the Cobb County Department of Public Safety and 194 sworn employees have left since 2011. There are 60 vacancies for sworn employees as of July 1, he added.

“At the current rate, more than 10 percent of the sworn officers will have left in 2014,” LoRusso said at Tuesday’s meeting. “Replacing them with new recruits is not the answer. The seasoned officers are taking experience and training with them.”

Cobb County police officers are some of the best trained law enforcement officers in the Southeast, LoRusso told the MDJ, making them a recruiting target for every other jurisdiction. Rather than lowering the standards of the Cobb police to bring in new recruits, LoRusso said the solution to the shortage is to make Cobb County a better place to work in order to retain employees and draw officers from other jurisdictions.

“We need action now to keep the law enforcement officers that are well-trained in Cobb County. It costs about $80,000 to train a Cobb County police officer,” LoRusso said at the meeting Tuesday. “We don’t need to lower our training standards. We need to make it more attractive for people to come here.”

The employee-borne costs of benefits, such as health care, have also gone up over the last several years, so officers are taking less money home, LoRusso said. When asked how the county could remedy the situation, he cited increased pay and other incentives — such as an increased pay for officers with advanced degrees — as some of the ways the county could encourage officer retention.

Assigned cars for officers are another improvement the county should make, LoRusso said, adding the cars aren’t perks, but a necessity.

“Cobb County — without assigned cars — is doing business the way law enforcement was done 20 years ago, where people sit and wait for the next shift to be able to get into a car and go to work,” LoRusso said at the meeting Tuesday. “I need you to rally before it gets worse. You’re not years away from a crisis, you’re six months to a year away from crisis.”

Lee said if Heaton recommends increased pay and assigned cars as solutions to the retention problem, they will have to be addressed in the budget process.

While there are already proposals for improvements to the Cobb Police department’s infrastructure — including a new $23.3 million public safety training facility and a new $16 million police headquarters to be built with a proposed special one percent sales tax — LoRusso said those improvements are years away and the commissioners need to take more immediate steps.

“I’m asking for urgency and action. I saw this commission jump into action and do everything necessary to bring the Braves to Cobb County. That’s great. But it’s going to bring increased public safety concerns,” LoRusso said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Lee responded to LoRusso’s call for urgency by saying the process is complex and it takes time to make these kinds of changes because they require short- and long-term benefit evaluations, a plan to fund the changes so they are sustainable and consensus from command staff and management.

“It’s unfortunate Lance feels we aren’t moving fast enough for him, but he has the luxury of not having the responsibility of figuring out how’s the best way to move forward and keep it within budget and address the root cause of the issue, which is not always the same as he articulates,” Lee said.

After his presentation at the commissioners’ meeting on Tuesday, Lee and LoRusso had a terse interaction.

Lee asked LoRusso if he’d been in contact with the county’s director of public safety, Sam Heaton, and said he wants to make sure LoRusso is aware of what the commissioners are doing to address the issues he brought up. LoRusso said he had, and he was looking forward to seeing what the commissioners might do.

“You know what we’re doing,” Lee responded as LoRusso was walking away.

This is not the first time these issues have been presented to the commissioners this year. In January, the county’s public safety director, Jack Forsythe, resigned from his post after only a year on the job. In his resignation letter to County Manager David Hankerson dated Jan. 6, Forsythe said the county “has suffered from a lack of sufficient funding and resources to properly sustain the appropriate level of personnel, facilities and equipment needed to provide an adequate level of protection for the citizens of Cobb County.”

In his letter, Forsythe went on to say he has notified both Hankerson and Lee “for over one year now” about the “crisis that has been developing within the police department as a result of the number of officers leaving the department and the county’s inability to attract and retain new recruits, and the need and justification for an increase in authorized officer strength.”

Comments
(31)
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LawOne
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August 06, 2014
they need to budget a lot more money for salary and benefits for cc police---if not, they will leave for other jobs or start calling in sick to protest. they gave away millions to the billionaire braves owners, so where will they come up with all the new millions needed????
CCSS
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August 04, 2014
Cobb County Police Department, Cobb Couny School District, CC This CC That, I stay out of unincorporated Cobb. Look at Tim Lee and the Chamber. Cobb government has gone WILD! I will stick to the cities in Cobb and stay the hell away from unincorporated Cobb TYVM. I want nothing to do with the Cobb manipulators who play the Conservative Card to get whatever they want out of the brainless retiree/voters who do whatever the limpire tells them
anonymous
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August 04, 2014
CCSS,good observations.

And I think you are spot on about the older retired folks in this county. They are out to lunch on whats going on. They continue to vote republican simply because that is what they have always done ( no, I am not advocating voting for a democrat...but, that is essentially what they are doing when they vote for this group of Cobb "republicans".)
Lee Must Go
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July 29, 2014
We wouldn't be in this position if Lee and the commission weren't so busy coddling to the Braves and paying attention to the people who elected them.
Just not CCPD
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July 29, 2014
CCPD is not the only police department that gets the short end of the stick on pay. All Lee's buddies agree with cutting the public safety short in pay, right MM. At one point, I knew of a Mayor who stated, "just because they are employee's they don't deserve a raise".. But the elected official will vote themselves raises and take their families on trips on the cities dime. Great examples you have set.
911copper
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July 29, 2014
To answer some of these questions in a public forum here we go. The reason why cops are in subdivisions writing tickets is because people in your neighborhood call the precinct commander and complain about speeding and stop signs. In an effort to answer the needs, we send an officer over there to address it. Cobb County has been blessed for many years with a solid Police Department made up of great people that care about there community. There is a certain amount of pride that comes with knowing the citizens are well taken care of. We will not please everyone and that is the nature of the beast. But we try. The "complaints" described are not made by individual officers for their own sake. They are made up of people that know what the Department once was and want to get it back there. The economy hurt the Department bad as we have always been fiscally lean in our budget. It is hard to convince an officer to stay when his friend who just left the Police Department and went to Dunwoody or Sandy Springs is now making an extra $1000.00 a month that he didn't have at Cobb. Take a minute and think about that... That comes in the form of salary, savings on benefits and an assigned vehicle. It has never been about a lack of funds available, it is just that nobody WANTS to spend the money to fix the Police Department.
anonymous
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July 28, 2014
I am thrilled to see another faction of Cobb County Government complaining. In another two seeks or so, we will have to deal with again all the "underpaid teachers" once they come off their very overextended vacations and are reading the paper once again....asking for mo' money, mo' money, and mo' money.
Underpaid
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July 29, 2014
Teachers are paid for 9 months of work over a 12 month period. Please name another job that rips off its workers in this manner. Seems like a pretty good deal for taxpayers. I guess people like you want everyone to make the minimum forever. My wife is a teacher and still hasn't topped the salary she made in 2004, a full 10 years ago due to the idiot decisions of those playing with our money in the all knowing private sector. Think before you speak so you don't sound like a...well you know.
Holden Caulfield
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July 29, 2014
Teachers will work from July until September before they get their first paycheck for the 2014-2015 school year. Name another job that requires you to work for over two months before you get paid for the work that you do.

BTW, it's not a vacation, teachers are not paid for days they do not work, including unpaid holidays.
Just Wait
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July 29, 2014
Way to go anonymous. You opened a huge bottle of whine.
husbandofteacher
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July 30, 2014
Yet another person who just talks about things they don't know anything about. To clarify for anonymous and others, teachers elect to get paid monthly or only when school is in session. So I other words, get "bigger" paychecks for a shorter amount of time or "smaller" paychecks throughout the year. At the end of the year, it is the same amount. Teachers are salaried employees so when they come in early or stay late to help your child or talk to you in a parent teacher conference or anything else, they don't make any extra money even though they put in more hours. Teachers are also underpaid in this area.
STEPHEN GEORGEJR MPA
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July 28, 2014
I actually like the performance/merit pay for LEO's with advanced degrees idea ...gives the officer some monetary benefit to strive for while at the same time helping herself/himself both personally & professionally/
Just Wait
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July 29, 2014
I agree it is a great idea if the officer comes to the department with a degree in hand. For the officers already there, the expense and time required to obtain a degree is often out of reach and they end up financially punished because they can't afford to improve themselves.
Readmo Paper
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July 28, 2014
When the economy slipped downhill the Commissioners didn't want to make hard decisions. Instead of cutting back on non-critical operations, they decided on a "no layoffs" policy. Then they laid everyone off in the form of furloughs. They couldn't see any difference between Police & Fire personnel and any other area. And it continues even as the economy improves and revenue grows, still no provision for essential functions.
O2bnavw
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July 28, 2014
MDJ/Mr Leroux - Rather than stopping at reporting the squabble, why don't you show us some data? What are comparable counties paying their officers? What are they doing to retain officers? It's easy to say "pay them more", but it's common knowledge that pay isn't the biggest thing that helps retention. Why is the turnover rate 10%? What is the turnover rate in comparable counties?

Let's see some real reporting here!
anonymous
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July 29, 2014
It's much easier to look up their property tax records online and report that.
CobbHuman
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July 28, 2014
I think I had one of those bottom dweller Cobb Police officers three years ago on a call to my place. This boy had a bald head, was pudgy and looked just like a big baby, and was about as helpful as one. Man, what a nothing. As far as Tim Lee, why would anyone put any stock in anything he says after his little shifty moves with the Braves deal......
Wizgrand
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July 28, 2014
This is a lesson in you get what you pay for, and if you don't pay enough, your people seek better paying jobs elsewhere. If you've got the best, and you obviously do, you need to pay a commensurate salary to those people to retain them.
Cobb Observer
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July 28, 2014
My thoughts as a life long 67 yr Cobb resident-

1) I had rather pay more taxes for pay increases than spend it on a $18 Million headquarters bldg. Even if residents vote in favor of increased taxes, the money it is used for things OTHER than pay increases.

2)If the CCPD is so short handed, then stop trying to ticket speeders on I-75, I-285, & Cobb Pkwy in the daylight. I know they do this but the revenue not to enforce safety.

2) If the CCPD is so short handed, then stop sitting in the background in very stable subdivisions and issuing tickets for not coming to what they define as a complete stop at a 4 way stop. And these are to adults, not teenagers.

3)When I was a teen driver in Cobb/Marietta and you were stopped by the police, they were business like, but polite. They were not arrogant and rude as has been my encounter when I was involved in a traffic accident. I didn't like my job for a few years, but I had to leave my attitude at home. A friend of mine was stopped in his east Cobb neighborhood for not coming to a complete stop at the 4 way stop. It was on a hill and the police officer blessed him out because he drove one block to a flat surface WITH his flashers on, which is permitted.

4) Finally, if the CCPD is short handed, then they FIRST should concentrate their efforts on patrolling shopping areas and high crime areas. Not lying in wait to issue tickets at a 4 way stop.
Cornelia Blimber
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July 29, 2014
So, in other words, after 67 years, what you are really trying to tell us that you still haven't figured out what a stop sign is or how to interact with one. And you need to tell it to us in 5 (or is that 4, I can't count either) ways. Thanks for sharing the thoughts of a typical Cobb driver.
ccpd12
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July 29, 2014
well duh...the obvious solution is building a new HQ. I've heard a lot of the officers saying they will leave unless the chief gets a bigger office.
Just Wait
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July 28, 2014
The police would be much better off if they had a speaker who was not so confrontational. It sounds good but is ineffective.
Smearing Lee
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July 28, 2014
The same people who scream for more funding were first in line here to criticize Lee when he wanted to raise taxes for the POLICE DEPARTMENT and will oppose SPLOST which includes the police training facility. Any excuse to oppose Mr. Lee. And most of these comments are from future opponents of Lee, trying to smear him as usual.
HotinAtlanta
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July 28, 2014
Instead of spending millions/billions of our tax dollars on this stupid Braves stadium and "Tim Lee" pedestrian bridge over 285, the BOC needs to pay our police officers and firefighters more money. They are, after all, the one that protect us and Lee's back. Get a grip Tim Lee, the police and firefighters are MORE IMPORTANT THAT YOUR STUPID BRAVES!!!!!
Just Sayin'....
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July 28, 2014
Timmy is too busy playing the big man on campus with his Braves win, and is still too focused on mass transit to care about anything else. That leaves Hankerson....well, that's about all you can say there.

Good luck to the men and women who serve Cobb so well. You deserve better.
Cobb Native
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July 28, 2014
But it is the Cobb way!!!!

Whatch as Ott will agree to it all and then vote against it

And it is not just the police department! Other departments are working on skeleton levels too...
Sheriff is also
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July 29, 2014
The Sheriff's Office has been devastated as well. They just want raises, pay for degrees, things they have earned.
i16
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July 28, 2014
KING LEE, PLEASE PUT PUBLIC SAFETY FIRST.

Sp 60000
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July 28, 2014
Rather than spending $1.2 million on upgrading a softball field, how about the commissioners focus on something important like these issues with the police?

savecobbpd
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July 28, 2014
WAKE UP PEOPLE.....SAVE CCPD!!!!!
21 yr leo
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July 28, 2014
Retired LEOs.. in past very few left the dept when they reached their "rule". Most stayed several years after, many until they reached 30 yrs. Now, as soon as they can, they leave..... Most leave to start new jobs that even pay less than the County.... What does that say? Officers give their lives, some the ultimate price, for Cobb County PD, but yet in the end, most don't people don't care especially if it doesn't fit in the budget. Yes they chose the job, but just because they want to serve doesn't mean they "joined up" to be hurt, killed or have to work 2nd and 3rd jobs to make ends meet. Imagine being 50 with 25 lbs of equipment and having to chase an 18 year old, wearing shorts and sneakers. They don't ask for anything special they only want to have what is considered industry standards.
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