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Bainbridge to hire new police officers

Bustling Bainbridge is looking to begin adding police officers to the city’s streets, and at the same time begin focusing on better patrol of the areas where crimes frequently occur.

In a recent presentation of the city’s 2009-2010 fiscal year budget before the Bainbridge City Council, City Manager Chris Hobby said the city had been selected to receive a $157,000 federal grant to fund the hiring of two new police officers.

The Council will hold another public hearing on the proposed budget and consider its adoption at its meeting this coming Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.

The grant will come from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

Under the terms of the grant, the city will have to create or improve its community policing. Hobby said he and Public Safety Director Larry Funderburke had looked at similar program models across Georgia, including Covington’s VIPER program. Created in 1998, VIPER (Variable, Intensive Patrol, Eradication and Response) “is a four-man unit that focuses on troubled areas, working at the street level to combat drugs, burglaries and other local crimes,” according to Georgia Trend magazine.

The federal government will pay the officers’ salaries for a three-year period, while Bainbridge will have to pick up the tab for years four and five. Hobby said in order to get officers on the street quickly, it may be necessary to hire people who are certified to work as policemen but not as firefighters.

Since the late 1980s, Bainbridge Public Safety has consisted almost exclusively of officers cross-trained in both professions throughout all of the division’s ranks. Hobby said if the council OK’d a quick hiring policy, the two new officers hired would be given the understanding that if their positions were later eliminated after the grant period was complete, they may need to become certified as firefighters in order to stay on the force.

“If we don’t [hire police-certified] officers, it may take a year to fill those positions,” Hobby said. “That’s due to the length of time it takes to get our officers into and out of fire academy.”

Public Safety will also get 15 new police vehicles that will be funded from proceeds from the one-cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax approved by Decatur County voters in Fall 2008.

A long-term goal for the Public Safety division is to increase its manpower so that each of the force’s four 12-hour shifts could have 13-14 officers instead of the 9-10 per shift working at present.

At times, when patrol officers become busy fighting a fire or responding to another major emergency, it can become difficult to respond to other E-911 calls, requiring the use of mutual aid from the Decatur County Sheriff’s Office.