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Jonesboro green lights new police positions

— Residents in the heart of Clayton County may feel a little safer because the Jonesboro Police Department has permission to hire additional officers and beef up patrols in the city.

The city council voted 5-1 earlier this week to approve a request to add four officer positions in the department with the goal being to get as many as four officers on duty at any given time. The addition of the new officers will allow the department to add one patrolman to each of its four shifts.

Officials from the department have repeatedly insisted additional officers are needed because of a shortage officers. The department lost some positions a few years ago in budget cuts so there were only enough patrol officers to have three on a shift. However, there are two officers currently out on family medical leave which means there have been as few as two officers were working at times.

That gave city leaders cause for concern and incentive to approve the additional officers.

“I don’t feel safe, and I don’t think the officers feel safe, with only two people on duty at any given time,” said Mayor Joy Day.

The police department is a key resource to Jonesboro residents. Many of them see it as a source of civic pride and many candidates for city council in 2011 argued the city should be doing more to support officers.

More recently, talks about replacing the department’s “Dog House” storage facility ultimately led to a council decision to begin planning for a new municipal complex so the department could have a new headquarters as well.

Several members of the Jonesboro Neighborhood Watch group attended the council meeting and one of them encouraged the approval of extra officers.

“I strongly urge you to support the funding for the additional officers,” said resident Carl Helton.

But there was some debate as to whether the city could afford the officers, which could cost up to $187,000. Councilman Bobby Wiggins said his understanding was that adequate money didn’t exist but Day countered by insisting the city’s finances are doing better than expected this year.

“I talked to the finance officer and was told we do not have the money for this right now,” said Wiggins.

Day also said the city also has enough funding stored away to cover a year’s worth of operations. She acknowledged it might be a tight pinch at first financially, but it would better for the city in the long run.

“I know the money is going to be tight, but in terms of safety — I don’t know,” said Day as she let out a sigh.

The mayor said the city has collected more revenues than officials had anticipated by this point, and expenditures have been lower than anticipated. That should let the city have more breathing room financially in the future, she said.

“We are way up on revenues,” said Day. “We’ve collected about 20 percent more in revenues that we projected for this time of year and we spent about 7 percent less than we projected ... We have enough money right now to do this.”

Finance Officer Sandra Meyers did not attend the meeting and could not be reached for comment Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.

There are 12 patrol officers in the department, said Lt. Tony Lumpkin. He said he, Chief Franklin Allen and other top brass have occasionally filled in on patrol shifts at times because there haven’t been enough officers to hit their ideal number of three people patrolling the city at a time.

“I work an eight-hour shift but I sometimes have to work 16 hours in a day because I’m the fill-in person,” said Lumpkin.

Lt. Eric Bradshaw added, “We have been stretched out thin.”

With three officers assigned to a shift, Jonesboro’s police can be stretched thin by circumstances. If one officer on a shift is out on medical leave, the remaining officers have to patrol the city. If one of the remaining officers arrests someone, they have to take them to the Clayton County Jail and the booking process can take the officer out of pocket for a while.

If the remaining officer is called to respond to a 911 call at the same time, it leaves the city virtually unprotected even if it is only for a short time.

“We’re doing the best we can but we’re short-staffed,” Lumpkin said.