City weighs expansion of Albany police gang unit

ALBANY, Ga. -- Albany City Commissioners tentatively approved a nearly $200,000 expansion of the Albany Police Department's Gang Unit, voting to request a withdrawal from a long-term financial planning committee to fund it.

The Gang Unit, which was initially adopted in December 2008 and funded through the allocation of $1 million from the city's allocation of funds from the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia's Competitive Trust dollars, arrested 407 people in 2009, seizing 21 guns, conducting 515 field interviews and making 7,500 citizen contacts, officials say.

Tuesday's request would fund an additional two officers, one support official, increase training and technology and other equipment for the unit.

Commissioners tentatively voted 5-2 to request the money from the long-term planning committee. Commissioner Bob Langstaff and Mayor Pro-tem Christopher Pike voted against.

"We take our job and our commitment seriously; to reduce gang violence and provide a safer community, " APD Deputy Chief Nathaniel Clark told commissioners.

If approved, the money to fund the expansion would be requested from the Longterm Financial Planning Committee -- a joint committee made of Albany Water, Gas & Light Board members and city commissioners -- who serve as trustees of one-third of all the MEAG funds coming into Albany.

Some on the commission were uncomfortable using the MEAG funds to pay for the personnel associated with the request, out of a concern about the city's ability to fund the positions when the MEAG funds run out in 10 years.

"Don't get me wrong, I'm a big supporter of the gang unit and think you are doing a great job," Pike said. "But I just don't think that the personnel should be funded using the MEAG money ... we should use that for one-time expenses and not to build salaries."

Commissioner Roger Marietta suggested funding part or all of the request from the city's reserve fund.

But Commissioner Tommie Postell, who is the chairman of the Longterm Financial Planning Committee, advocated for its use in funding the unit.

In March, the LFPC and the city commission voted to fund an emergency allocation for repairs of WG&L elevators and for a damaged roof. An allocation for the gang unit was included in the request, but the city commission voted it down.

The request doesn't become official until a vote at the night meeting later this month.