For months, if not the last year, Warner Robins has been debating how to handle staffing problems in the police department.
Now, with three homicides in eight days, city leaders say they understand the public's growing concern and are considering new solutions.
Mayor Randy Toms says this time, the discussion over police staffing issues feels different.
“I'm hearing from a wider array of citizens. Yes, we've talked about it, you and I have talked about it, we've talked about it as a council, we've talked about it with select groups of citizens, but I am seeing, and certainly through the Facebook page that's out there, I'm seeing more input, more buy-in,” Toms said in his office Thursday.
The mayor says he's considering every proposed solution, including a potential tax or millage rate increase that would be used solely to fund public safety.
Since 2000, the city has only added 3 budgeted sworn-in positions, to 120 total.
As WMAZ has reported in the past, in 2000, the number of sworn-in positions at WRPD was 117, in 2016, the number was 115, this fiscal year, the council approved the addition of five new budgeted positions bringing it to 120.
Since 2000, Warner Robins' population has grown from 48,804 to 74,388 in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In January of 2018, Warner Robins Police have billed more than 476 overtime hours, costing the City $13,334.35, according to payroll records obtained in an open records request. In January 2017, overtime hours cost the city more than $15,000, according to the same payroll data.
Toms also says it's time to set new priorities for the money they're already spending across all departments, including public works and recreation.
“Let's take a hard look at where we're spending dollars that are important to our community, but are they as important as law enforcement is?” Toms said.
One council member says some of those departments are as important.
“I'm a firm believer if you put 100 officers on the street, we're not going to stop the crime. You've got to change the way these kids are thinking. From, like I said, from 12 years of age to 18, I think that's our target area,” Thomas said on Thursday.
The councilman says that's why he wants to continue funding city recreation improvements to keep kids off the streets, but he said he would only consider a tax increase after examining all the areas the city was spending money unnecessarily.
Thomas also said the city needs to focus on more issues than salary when it comes to retention of police officers.
The City did spend more than $1 million this fiscal year to make improvements to perceived pay scale issues across all departments.
Thomas said no matter what, something needs to change.
Councilman Keith Lauritsen told WMAZ over the phone he thinks the application process needs to be streamlined. He said the written assessment could be too difficult, but does want to keep background checks and other behavioral restrictions in place. Councilman Thomas said he would have no problem examining the application process.
Councilman Mike Davis also told WMAZ over the phone he’d consider any and all options. He said public safety needs to be and is their top priority. However, he agreed with Councilman Thomas that simply adding more police officers would not stop every crime.
Davis said he would do anything the Council thinks is necessary to improve the situation, even if he did not necessarily agree with it himself.
Council members Clifford Holmes, Daron Lee, and Carolyn Robbins did not return WMAZ’s requests for comment on Thursday.
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