ALBANY, Georgia (Albany Herald) — An assessment of the Albany Police Department identified the obvious — a shortage of officers on the streets — as one of key findings, but also suggested that the shortfall is greater than previously thought.
The report from BerryDunn presented on Tuesday to the Albany City Commission addressed some of the ways to recruit and retain more officers for the agency. The Portland, Maine, consulting firm was hired in September to conduct the study of the department in September at a cost of $68,000.
The city currently has about 52 patrol officers on duty, while the firm’s research indicates that number should be around 135.
However, by following some of the assessment’s recommendations that number could be reduced to 110, said Mitch Weinzetl, a company representative who presented the report.
“That (110) is the optimal baseline,” he said.
Retention is a big part of the issue, according to the report. Of the 172 officers hired between 2016 and 2020, only 72 are still employed with the APD, and that comes at a cost.
“What we’re calculating, the loss of staff in the police department has cost the city $5 million over five years,” Weinzetl said. “There is a substantial cost to attrition.”
In the department’s Criminal Investigation Unit, the shortage is 25 percent.
Officers in departments with similar issues sometimes develop a tendency to take shortcuts while responding to a call, knowing that there is another call waiting, Weinzetl said. In addition, as overworked officers leave to take other jobs, the remaining officers’ workload is increased, leading to a self-perpetuating “cycle.”
“You’ve got to find a way to work your way out” of the cycle, he said.
Some of the recommendations included in the assessment are to offer incentives for officers who stay on the job every few years and housing assistance.
Officers who have a residence in a community are more likely to be invested in, and more likely to stay in, their communities, Weinzetl said. In some cities, departments are offering perks such as flexible schedules that allow officers to attend classes and some allow time in the gym while on duty.
Weinzetl, who was in law enforcement for 27 years, said that departments can reduce attrition by making sure new hires are a good fit for law enforcement.
“Some of the challenge is that most of the police departments are using the same recruiting practices they were using for the last 20 or 30 years,” he said. “It is our belief and our assessment that these things can be overcome by (following) our recommendations.”
The firm made no recommendation on a reorganization/consolidation of the Albany-Dougherty Drug Unit, which is staffed by the APD, Dougherty County Police Department and Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office, and the APD-operated Gang Unit. However, it noted the overlap in the duties of those agencies.
Mayor Bo Dorough has suggested considering merging the two units in the past.
“Quite frankly, many people involved in gang activity are involved in drugs, and many people involved in drugs are involved in gang activity,” Weinzetl said. “It may be that a merged unit is the way to go, but we don’t want to paint you into a corner.”
One concern raised by Ward IV Commissioner Chad Warbington is that residents are complaining about a lack of traffic enforcement due to the shortage of officers.
Weinzetl responded that patrol and investigative duties are the most important aspects for a police department and that he would not recommend shifting officers away from those duties to increase traffic enforcement.
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