DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — Police departments all over metro Atlanta are facing a shortage of officers. Channel 2 dives deeper into the issue county by county, starting in DeKalb.
We wanted to know how that department keeps so many families safe while down more than 150 officers. Channel 2′s Investigative Reporter Mark Winne got that answer today.
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DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond says at least 50 officers have left the county police department so far this year, though 19 rookies have hit the street. But the chief approached him with an out-of-the-box short-term solution, and the two of them successfully pushed through triple overtime pay.
DeKalb County police Sgt. Brian Fitts says he wears a badge to help people.
“I enjoy helping people and serving, helping those that need help,” Fitts said.
But an initiative to pay triple overtime to DeKalb police officers is a huge help to the helpers.
“I’m able to do things and meet the cost of inflation with my family, able to support my family,” Fitts said. At the same time, it helps the police protect people.
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DeKalb County Police Chief Mirtha Ramos says most agencies, whether large or small, are having the same staffing shortages.
A county spokesman says the DeKalb County Police Department is authorized to have 798 officers, but as of July 1, only employed 628 officers, down 170 officers from what the department could have if it could keep and/or recruit enough men and women to be at full staff.
“The triple overtime has its obvious advantages-- more officers on the road, you know, it reduces our response time to 911 calls and it increases officer safety,” Sgt Blount said.
Fitts says that when they’ve been short, officers stay over a little or come in early to help out. He says they’re able to put more officers in the high-crime areas.
“When we have more people working, officers have the ability to get off as far as leaves, requests or whatnot-- and to me, that contributes to your morale and your mental health,” Blount said.
Ramos says so far the money has come from the overtime budget, but salary savings from the unfilled officer slots are also available. And if the money runs out, she’s confident Thurmond, who approved the triple overtime, will find more.
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But she says the long-term solution has to come from recruiting and retention. The triple overtime is a short-term fix.
“We can’t do it indefinitely. We understand that it will take a toll. Officers can’t work long hours for long periods of time and remain efficient,” Ramos said.
Fitts said he’s working 40 hours of overtime every two weeks.
“We work a four-day work week. So we’re off three days. I work two extra days, just 10 hours, and then I get that seventh day to rest,” Fitts said.
Fitts says he has a daughter starting college and was so moved by the impact the triple overtime has had on his family. He emailed the chief to express his gratitude to her and the county CEO.
The chief acknowledged that she spoke to Fitts in person between interviews, and she was emotionally moved.
“I don’t do this for appreciation, so I was touched,” Ramos said.
Thurmond says he hopes the triple overtime is a short-term fix. But he plans to keep it until the manpower crisis is over, short- or long-term.
But he says he hopes to have some longer-term solutions announced in the coming weeks.
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