By Linda Looney-Bond
Melanie Banks recently opened a store in the City of Lovejoy that operates as a flea market, consignment shop and thrift store.
The 35-year-old mother of four from Hampton, surrounded by her four children Thursday at the shop on Hastings Bridge Road, said she's excited to know that Lovejoy is starting its own police force.
"I'm all for them having a police department," said Banks, who owns the New 2 Me store. "I just think it'll be a great help, especially for the business owners, to know that they'll be surrounding [us], and that they can drop by ... and if we need them, they'll be here. It's just a big bonus, especially for us brand, new, opening up."
Lovejoy received federal and state authorization to operate its own police department April 1, according to Police Chief Darrell Partain. Partain, a former Clayton County police chief, was hired by Lovejoy Nov. 1, to create a police department for the city.
Partain said the city hopes to have its own officers on the road by July, following budget hearings in May.
Currently, Clayton County officers answer service calls within Lovejoy's city limits. Additionally, the city pays off-duty Clayton officers to patrol the city. Once Lovejoy's department is up and running, Partain said, the city's police officers will answer calls for service, and Clayton County Police will be a support, as needed.
"We highly respect the Clayton County Police Department and look forward to working with them in the same capacity as other cities," Partain said. "Clayton police will still have as much arrest powers within the City of Lovejoy as in any city," he said.
Lovejoy is, currently, the only city in Clayton County that does not have its own police force. Partain said the county does a good job of covering the city. However, he said, residents have indicated it is simply time they had their own police force.
"I think it would be more that they want that personal touch," Partain said. "I've heard several positive remarks. I was a guest speaker at the community center recently and it was all positive."
Lovejoy resident, Bernard Cloud, said he's looking forward to the new department. Cloud, who has lived in the city for about two years, is the assistant coordinator of the Lovejoy Community Center.
"We had Chief Partain come in and speak to the seniors at the senior breakfast for this month," said Cloud, "and he sounds as though he's going to be very gung-ho about making sure that crime is reduced. He sounds like he's going to make sure that the laws are enforced, and that he has a top team here. So to me, it's a very good thing."
Lovejoy Mayor Joe Murphy said a major campaign promise of his in 2007 was that he would establish a full-service police department in the city. "I'm really proud that Lovejoy is getting a police department. I think it's time, and it'll be really utilized," Murphy said.
"I've lived in Lovejoy my whole life," he said. "I'm a 50-year resident of Lovejoy. I've been on the council since '88. It's always an issue that's come up. One of the biggest comments citizens have made over the last 10 to 15 years is they don't see much of a police presence in the city.
"The county does an excellent service," he said, "but it's like any other big police department. They're overwhelmed a lot of times with calls, and they're real, real busy. Sometimes, they're not able to give a personal touch."
Murphy said the Lovejoy Police Department will "have a more personalized touch, and in the long run, we'll have a better place to live and a better place to do business and shop."
The city has an estimated population of 2,400 residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, but Murphy pointed out that the increased presence of commercial business in the area drives an increased need for more police presence.
"We have the hub ... for all the business in the southern tip of Clayton, the Wal-Mart shopping center, Home Depot," Murphy said. "So we do have a large influx that comes into the shopping area that really doesn't live in the city limits."
He said details about where funds will come from to run the police department will be discussed during budget hearings in May. Lovejoy, he said, is currently spending about $300,000 per year to pay off-duty Clayton County officers to patrol the city part-time. Murphy said that money would be transferred to run the new police department, and pay salaries. He said the $300,000 comes out of the city's general-fund budget.
"With franchise fees, business licenses, and our local option sales tax, we bring in right at a million," Murphy said. "The city has about two-and-a-half million [dollars] in reserve," he added. "We can start a police department by tapping into some of that. There's always a chance that Lovejoy will have to impose property taxes, too. Taxes are the last thing you want to mention, but ... you have to pay for services," he said.
Clayton County Police Chief Jeff Turner said his department stands ready to assist the city and Lovejoy Police Chief Darrell Partain, as needed. "I'm supportive of their efforts. He's [Partain] an excellent chief. I have a lot of respect for him. He and I, just like the other chiefs in the county, have an excellent working relationship," Turner said.
"All the [police] chiefs and sheriffs are committed to working together in Clayton County to push this county forward."