COBB COUNTY, Ga. — Overworked, underpaid and severely understaffed departments -- those are some of the reasons why police officers say a public safety crisis is unfolding in Cobb County.
Channel 2 Cobb County Bureau Chief Chris Jose learned on Tuesday that the fire department is also operating with at least 60 vacancies.
Now, firefighters and cops are demanding better pay and benefits.
It was standing room only as dozens of police officers and firefighters packed a boardroom for a public safety meeting. They held yellow signs and voiced their opinions.
"I've always said that public safety is the No. 1 priority but it is not our only priority," Cobb County Chairman Mike Boyce told Channel 2's Michael Seiden.
Seiden asked Boyce if they were dealing with a public safety crisis.
“That just leads to a knee jerk reaction and it doesn’t do any of us any good. That brings facts to us and facts need to be look at by the board. We need to have an informed discussion," he said.
John Brady is a retired firefighter. He told Channel 2 Action News that he worked for Cobb County for 35 years and now serves as the union president.
“Time is of the essence in our career,” Brady said. “We’re running very short of personnel.”
Brady told Jose that the county is down more than 60 firefighters and nearly a dozen have left this year alone.
“We had one leave yesterday for a smaller department, because of pay and benefits,” Brady said.
Brady believes there will be more departures.
He told Jose some crews are already on fire engines operating one person down and that often leaves them with a choice to either rescue people or fight a fire. They can't do both.
“It’s definitely a crisis. And I think the public is even more jeopardy,” said Sgt. Steve Gaynor, the local president of the Fraternal Order of Police.
Gaynor was one of dozens who demanded the board of commissioners consider across the board public safety pay raises.
He also wants the county to contribute more money to the pension.
“A lot of the officers, and public safety people, thought it was a slap in the face. They weren’t really listening,” Gaynor said.
In his 2020 budget proposal, Boyce is suggesting a 5% increase for police and fire.
Gaynor told Jose that's not a competitive raise because other local agencies pay more.
“You want to give a 5% raise to sworn public safety when we’re 21% below most agencies in the area,” Gaynor said.
In the last month, Gaynor said 11 police officers have left Cobb County.
© 2020 Cox Media Group