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Chief to council: split up BPS

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Chief Larry Funderburke’s comments on Bainbridge Public Safety Division

Lake Blackshear—The City of Bainbridge needs more employees to continue delivering services such as public safety, garbage pickup and street maintenance, two city division directors told the City Council at its retreat on Friday, which was being held at Georgia Veterans State Park at Lake Blackshear.

Public Safety Director Larry Funderburke, who announced he is planning to retire next January, said he recommended the council consider splitting up Bainbridge Public Safety into separate police and firefighting departments.

Funderburke said the issue is how many officers are currently available to work a given shift. Currently, there are nine officers per shift, including at least two who are tasked solely with being ready to drive a fire truck, Funderburke said. In his view, BPS needs about 14 officers per shift, not counting investigators and members of the VIPER team.

The problem is when a large fire breaks out, the police chief said. Even with a full shift of seven patrol officers, when a fire breaks out, two officers may need to continue patrolling, leaving five officers maximum to focus on fighting the fire. When officers are off due to illness or vacation, dealing with a major fire can mean no officers are out providing police patrol for hours at a time, Funderburke said.

“We just can’t do that,” he said. “We’ve been fighting it for years, but it’s time to tell the truth: It’s not working; it’s not safe.”

Alternatively, if the council opts to keep the public safety model, more officers are needed to adequately deliver BPS’ services, for the same reasons, Funderburke said.

Funderburke said today’s potential BPS hires usually prove to be more interested in police work than firefighting, making it difficult to attract and retain officers.

Funderburke also said there may also be a need to renovate current BPS headquarters and possibly build a new fire station in the southern part of city limits.

BPS was created in the 1980s under the leadership of former City Manager Charles Tyson, who advocated that one unified department could save the city government money by cross-training each officer as police officers and firefighters.