WARNER ROBINS, Ga. — Warner Robins Police Chief John Wagner says his department is currently down five officers, but that's about to change.
With two officers joining the force and a few currently going through the training process, Wagner says that would take them from being down five officers to fully-staffed.
Despite officer and deputy shortages around the state, he says things are looking up for his department.
"We're looking good right now, so I'm really pleased."
He says looking ahead, he wants to continue to grow their investigative, traffic and drug units.
"I do believe that drugs are fueling a lot of our crime, especially the violent crime," says Wagner.
Robert Tharpe, who lives in Warner Robins, says he is pleased with the department's progress.
"I think the police department is doing a lot better than it has been in the past. I think there's been a lot of improvements in the staff," said Tharpe. "I think finances are a big issue for them in the city, but overall, I’m pleased with the progress they’ve made and I’d just like to see them continue on improving."
Wagner says hiring officers takes time.
"People who say, 'You need to hire 10 more officers,' and think two weeks later they're gonna be on the road," he says, "It's not something like I give them a key and a badge and go to work. It's just not that easy."
He says possible state budget cuts to law enforcement training classes could slow them down even more.
"If I'm losing a class, that's just longer that those people have to sit here in the PD. They are training, they're learning how to write reports, but they're not an officer that I can go ahead and put them on the road and make arrests."
He says possible cuts could take away one class at the training centers this year and two the following year.
The first class that would go would be the Basic Law Enforcement training class, which he says essentially teaches you how to be a police officer.
Wagner says he has spoken to Warner Robins city council members about his concerns and they are working with state representatives to find a way to avoid that outcome.
Wagner doesn't think the state should target law enforcement for budget cuts.
"I hope they look at different areas because we need those cycles of officers and deputies going through these classes because we're all short."
Wagner says even after they are fully-staffed, he plans to keep hiring.
He says the department needs to keep growing to keep up with the growth of the city and meet the needs of the citizens.
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