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Staffing still short for local law enforcement agencies

April 16, 2012
By Kevin Pierson - The Marietta Times ( , The Marietta Times

While the workload for law enforcement remains heavy, in an economy marred by the recent recession there aren't more officers to handle all those extra responsibilities.

In many regards, there are substantially fewer, as area law enforcement agencies have lost programs and been forced to adapt to a growing criminal world.

"It'd be nice to have a larger detective bureau that could work on the technology crimes and (things of) that nature," said Marietta Police Capt. Jeff Waite.

The Marietta Police Department is authorized to have 25 patrolmen, a single school resource officer, five sergeants, one captain and the police chief, although they currently don't.

"We're still down three (officers). It was five," Waite said.

That means the department is working to adjust to the workload, with officers having to wear several different hats.

Fact Box

Local law enforcement staffing changes

The Marietta Police Department is authorized to have 25 patrolmen, one school resource officer, five sergeants, one captain and one chief. The department is currently down three officers.

The Washington County Sheriff's Office has lost programs such as the aviation unit, but have not lost the jobs as they have been moved to other areas of the sheriff's office.

The department has also lost a clerk position and the parking officer, with those responsibilities now added onto patrol officers.

Given the state of the city's general fund, that situation isn't likely to change either, Waite noted. Unless additional funds are freed up in the budget, those positions may not be filled.

"I don't see us hiring three officers any time soon. Budgets, they're prohibitive of doing that kind of thing," Waite said.

Loss of the clerk position has had a tremendously adverse affect on officers, as each individual officer now has to file their own paperwork and reports, which takes time off the street.

"Patrol is the backbone of any police department. Your street coverage is priority," Waite said.

While the Marietta Police Department sees a noticeable difference in terms of personnel, the Washington County Sheriff's Office has been more fortunate.

The sheriff's office has lost several programs, such as the aviation program, but has been able to reallocate those resources to other areas in the department so deputies remain on the job. The sheriff's office has also gone from having three canine units to one, Deputy Votan, a 3-year-old German shepherd.

"I don't think our staffing has changed greatly in the last 10 years. We have done away with some positions, but they've been converted to road. The jobs have not been lost," said Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks.

The criminal division of the Washington County Sheriff's Office has 20 road deputies, four major crimes investigators and three detectives. The sheriff's office hopes to maintain its current staffing level, but if budgets continue to shrink and inflation continues to increase the cost of basic necessities required for law enforcement, cuts could be needed to balance the budget.

Loss of assets like the helicopters used in the aviation program has been balanced by moving officers to other points of emphasis, particularly narcotics, which Mincks has said contributes to a high percentage of the property crimes in Washington County.

"The number of people is about the same. It's just management as to where I want to put my resources," Mincks said.

Managing resources is a challenge for all law enforcement agencies in an ever-tightening budget.

One of the big challenges for law enforcement has been the increased cost of fuel for cruisers.

If the price of fuel were to drop back down to $1 to $1.50 a gallon, it would be quite feasible to see an additional two officers on the streets, Waite said.

The opposite is also true, as if the cost of fuel continues to increase and reaches $5 per gallon as some analysts have predicted, it could result in even fewer officers on the street in the future, Waite said. If that happens, law enforcement may have to park the cruisers and rely on shorter, foot patrols to save costs and enable operation of the department to continue.

"You have X amount of money and it has to be spread around to take care of the whole operation," Waite said.



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