Dougherty County Police Chief Don Cheek updates the Dougherty County Kiwanis Club Monday on the status of the department.
ALBANY, Ga. -- The police force serving Dougherty County is continuing to move forward, despite the fact that times are tough.
Dougherty County Police Department Chief Don Cheek briefed the Dougherty County Kiwanis Club on Monday regarding some of the challenges faced by the department.
The agency, chartered in 1937, has jurisdiction over all of Dougherty County. There are more than 50 positions within the department, including one animal control officer, Cheek said.
As officers are lost, the department can take time to replace them, which can have an adverse impact on call response time. Currently, Cheek said, the average is 11 minutes, but it has been as low as seven minutes, 30 seconds.
“We could be as far away as 30-35 minutes from a call,” Cheek said. “(The response time) is creeping up because of vacancies on the road. My goal is to get it to 10 minutes.”
The total number of positions breaks down to 46 sworn certified police officers and another nine civilian positions. As it stands now, there are four police officer vacancies and two civilian vacancies, Cheek said.
The chief also added that the force has not had a pay raise in four years, with police officers having a starting salary of $12.80 an hour.
“It’s almost a crime to me,” Cheek said.
The staff shortage, a problem that has been ongoing for two or three years, is further complicated by the training period new recruits have to go through. Ultimately, the process results in it taking eight or nine months for a vacancy on the force to be filled, Cheek said.
The recent money crunch hasn’t helped matters.
"I've been doing police budgets since 1988, and this is the most difficult year I've been through," Cheek said.
In terms of work load, the department responded to roughly 25,000 calls last year, during which time they drove about 1 million miles on patrol and made 2,000 traffic contacts, the chief said.
Cheek took pride in mentioning that his department does follow up on issues pertaining to specific cases.
"We spend quality time with people who are having problems," he said. "We have the time to sit with people (and deal with problems)."
The animal control officer alone responded to 750 calls last year, which provided incentive to save that position when the department was recently faced with making cuts.
"That was the first position that was to be cut," Cheek recalled of the budget crunch.
Last month, the Dougherty County Commission approved a 2-mill tax hike, which in part goes to fund the police department. Had the millage rate increase not gone through, the result would have been a $830,000 budget shortfall, the chief said.