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Police chief: Major crime here

AMERICUS — Americus Police Chief Brian Carney addressed the mayor and City Council at Monday’s administrative briefing. He brought forth a plan “to take the Americus Police Department into the 21st century and modernize.” His two main areas of need are personnel and vehicles.

“There’s major crime going on here,” Carney said. “Entering autos is horrendous. We’ve got to stop it, slow it down. We’ve got to have the manpower to do it. It’s like a cat chasing its tail. It’s your city.”

Carney told the mayor and Council he is nine officers short in his department and part of the problem is low salaries.

Carney, who started as the new chief in January, said his department is nine patrol officers down and “we can’t hire anybody because they won’t come to work for $28,000 (a year). We’ve got to recruit from other places than just locally. We have to be competitive with other cities regionally.”

He added that he had received one application for the nine open slots.

“That won’t do,” he said. “We need to bring our standards up so people will want to come and work here.”

The chief showed a salary and manpower comparison chart of police departments in cities of similar size such as Moultrie, Brunswick and Tifton. Americus has the lowest starting pay for sworn police officers.

Council member Shirley Green Reese asked when the police department last received a raise. Mayor Barry Blount said it was in 2012 or ‘13, also saying the City can’t give one department a raise without giving all City employees a raise.

Carney also reported on needs for vehicles in his department. Of the 36 patrol/marked vehicles, 16 of them have 100,000 or more miles. Of the 13 unmarked/administrative units, 10 have 100,000 or more miles. He said the cost of vehicle maintenance for 2014 for the entire fleet of 49 vehicles was $81,704.14. Over half that amount is contributed to the vehicles with 100,000 or more miles. Last year, the City purchased five Ford Interceptor sedans at a cost of $135,980 which allowed the police department to retire two of its “high maintenance, high mileage vehicles” from the fleet, leaving 16. Carney recommended to Council replacing six of those vehicles at a cost of $164,676. He said the $108,000 in the fall budget would allow the purchase of 3.5 vehicles.

Carney also reported on a van used to transport inmates to court. The 12-year-old vehicle has 202,034 miles and he said a properly equipped (segregation of male and female inmates), used van can be purchased for $34,800.

Green Reese asked how often the van is used. Maj. Herman Lamar said Municipal Court is held four times a month.

“That’s almost once a week,” commented Council member Carla Cook.

The mayor said, “We all recognize what you’re saying.”

New interim CAO Billy Beckett suggested the City needs to put together a plan.

“Based on what I’ve heard,” he said, “you’re looking at a three- to five-year process. But with the morale problems, you need to start somewhere. With nine openings, you’re looking for trouble down the road.”

Carney said the immediate problem is he has three vehicles needing expensive repairs now and he needs to know what to do.

“If we want wheels turning on streets,” he said, “I’ve got to do something; you’ve got to do something. It all comes down to your liability in the event of a high-speed chase resulting in an accident. This isn’t rocket science; we’re talking about liability.”

Council member Juanita Wilson said, “We need to come up with a plan, even if the plans have to wait six months or more.”

Green Reese said the plan needs to be “urgent.” She asked the chief how long it would take him to make a plan.

“That’s what I attempted to do with this letter (presentation),” he said.

The mayor suggested Council bring available dates to the next meeting (Thursday) so they can schedule an additional meeting to further discuss the matter.

Carney thanked the mayor and Council for their consideration of his requests.

“I’m presenting the information to you because you’re the decision makers. I know you’re financially strapped. I’m just the information giver. I’m somewhat aghast at the salaries and equipment. Morale is awful. That’s the best thing I can say about it. Some of my officers have applied for food stamps. That’s pretty bad.”

Carney said there are other needs as well.

“The sheriff wants to start a drug suppression unit,” he said, “but he needs two of my officers and I can’t give two. There are more street drugs here … You’re infested with them.”