WARNER ROBINS, Ga. — Warner Robins Mayor Randy Toms cited three issues when discussing now former Police Chief Brett Evans' departure: department morale, officer levels and officer retention.
Hiring challenges are not new for the department--not by a long shot.
"I don't think it needs to be overlooked that the beginning of this situation that we find ourselves in started years ago," said Toms.
Hiring challenges have plagued the Warner Robins Police Department for years as they've consistently operated below full officer strength.
After a lengthy discussion behind closed doors, Mayor Toms emerged and approached Evans in the lobby of city hall. A crowd gathered.
"Right now I'm going to have a conversation with Chief Evans," the Mayor said. "Everything is fine right now, but we've got a lot of work to do."
But Evans held on to his job, and by this month, department spokesperson Jennifer Parson says they boosted their ranks by nine officers.
The jump came as a result of 18 new hires and nine departures from the department. Of the departures, Parson said four retired, three relocated for a spouse's job and two resigned.
Yet Toms said some council members pressured Evans to step down during a closed session Monday night.
"It's a fair assessment to say the timing of it was pushed up under pressure," Toms said.
When asked why city leaders would do that when progress was being made on one of the key issues, Toms said, "I don't know."
As for morale, Evans' replacement, Acting Chief John Wagner, suggested there had been some tension between rank and file officers and management, but said as chief he wants to work to bridge that gap.
"I believe that relationships number one have to not necessarily be repaired, but that relationships have to be there between the officers and management," Wagner said.
As for retaining his officers, Wagner did say he's considering exploring a pay incentive to reward longevity, but he's still brand new in the top job and that plan is not set in stone.
Numbers from Parson showed that while the department has made gains, it's still 10 officers short of being fully staffed.
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