Grantville council divided on police hiring

by W. Winston Skinner

The Grantville City Council is deeply divided when it comes to the city’s police force.

The council approved hiring two new officers for the department on Monday — and honored Sgt. Bill Baker for apprehending a speeder who was wanted for attempted murder in Alabama. During the meeting, council members Johnny Cooks and Barham Lundy expressed misgivings about increasing the force without data to support the need.

They also expressed concern about the policy that means officers spend much of their time on Interstate 85 stopping speeding motorists. In addition, Cooks asked for an investigation of alleged police pay documents being falsified.

Grantville Police Chief Doug Jordan and Lt. Scott Wilson presented a framed certificate to Baker. “The officer been with us about two years,” Jordan said. “He’s dedicated to this city more than anyone knows.”

Jordan said what Baker accomplished through a traffic stop illustrates “the importance of what our officers do.”

Baker stopped a motorist traveling at more than 100 miles per hour. The driver was wanted in Montgomery for attempted murder.

Baker received congratulations from Mayor Jim Sells and several council members. Cooks told Baker what he did was a great example of community policing.

Lundy thanked Baker for “that traffic stop he made that took this dangerous individual off the streets.”

“When the fur is flying, you’re there,” Sells told Baker. “We appreciate your taking this criminal off the streets. You’re known for doing that.”

“I love this little town, and I appreciate the opportunity to work here,” Baker said.

Discussion of adding two additional police officers took the council down a less congenial path. The proposal would bring the number of patrol officers to 10 — plus Jordan and Wilson.

“It gives the chief a little more leeway when people are out on leave,” Councilman David Riley said. The current system results in lots of overtime and can leave an officer on a call without backup.

Free training is offered for police officers, but Grantville’s officers often cannot take advantage of the training because attending classes would leave the city without adequate coverage.

“I’m having a problem with this for a lot of different reasons,” Cooks said.

Cooks asked City Manager Johnny Williams if he asked for the additional staff, and Williams said he did not. He then added, however, that the “average police officer will bring in $725 on an average week — which is enough to pay for himself.”

With regard to police officers, “you can’t really get too many,” Williams said. “We can always use a couple of more officers.”

Cooks expressed concern because he said Jordan — in administrative committee meetings — has said department staff needed a raise but never addressed the issue of additional staff.

“The majority of their time — they are on the interstate, is that not correct?” Cooks asked. He was told I-85 is where there is the most traffic and the most potential for citations.

Patrolling the interstate constantly “doesn’t increase the quality of life or public safety” within the city, Cooks said. “This is where I really have a disagreement with the department on these issues.”

In the past, the department had several part-time officers, but Jordan said there were problems when Grantville needed a part-timer, but the officer’s other job interfered.

Cooks also said that if increased pay is needed for police officers, adding staff will work against that. He noted Grantville’s lieutenant has sometimes made several thousand dollars more than the chief in a year — because of overtime.

More officers will mean less overtime — resulting in “a decrease in pay for these guys,” Cooks said.

If they make less, “they’re going to leave,” Cooks summarized. “To me, that’s kind of counterproductive.”

Cooks said he thought the city had had four different lieutenants in the past two years. “We have a huge turnover problem in the police department,” Williams confirmed. Jordan said 12 officers have left during the past three years.

Cooks also said he had been told “some pay documents… may have been falsified” in the police department. There was a police employee who did falsify pay documents. That person “is no longer with us,” Williams said.

“I think we need to look into it as a criminal investigation,” Cooks said. “If we’re going to enforce the law, it needs to start there.”

Cooks said he wants to know wants to know “who allowed these guys to falsify this documentation.”

“Is this necessary tonight?” Sells asked Cooks. “You’re going in 20 different directions.” He said if Cooks does not want additional police officers “then you need to vote against two new staff members.”

Cooks said he felt the allegations were serious and should be investigated.

“If we talk allegations, we’re going to be here all night. This is Grantville. We create allegations in Grantville,” Sell said. “You need to make your point so we can move on with this discussion.”

The discussion grew heated. “There’s no reason for you to raise your voice,” Lundy told Sells. “There is no reason for you to constantly interrupt,” Sells countered.

Cooks made a motion to have City Attorney Mark Mitchell contact the district attorney about the falsification of pay records. Lundy seconded the motion.

“I would like to know why our council does not want to move forward on this particular issue. I think it’s criminal to have these kinds of allegations standing out” and not investigated, Cooks said.

“You put this in an area that I completely disagree with. This belongs between the police chief and the city manager,” Sells responded.

Riley and Leonard Gomez voted against Cooks’ motion. Sells broke the tie — also voting in opposition.

The council did vote to spend $67,700 to hire two more police officers.

Cooks questioned if bringing in “more police officers, more police cars, more policing” — particularly on the interstate — is going to improve the quality of life for Grantville residents.

Lundy said “over two thirds of this city’s” expenditures are for the police department.

“Their motto should be to serve and protect. It’s just the opposite here — to harass and intimidate,” Lundy said. He said that instead of solving burglaries and other crimes in the city, police officers are harassing drivers passing through the edge of town on I-85.

“I really don’t see where adding two police officers is going to make a difference,” Lundy said.

He said the police force should grow if there is an increase in crime. “Crime hasn’t increased. What they are talking about is traffic on Interstate 85,” Lundy said. He said the state already has employees “hired to police that interstate.”

Lundy also remarked that when he first became a member of the council, a single police officer was present for council meetings. Now there often are as many as five, he said.

“It’s like the gestapo in here,” he said.

Sells said Lundy was not “representing the rest of this council” with his remarks.

“You had your turn,” Lundy retorted. “That was my opinion.”

“Mr. Lundy, you’re a shame and a disgrace,” Sells said. “I could say the same about you,” Lundy replied.

Riley has positive remarks about hiring the officers. “We did something right for the police department. I have a lot of respect for them — for what they do,” he said.

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