Piedmont police Chief Steven Tidwell says it would take six new officers to fully staff the department, which currently has 10 sworn law enforcers.
“Staffing shortages and budget cuts have left the Police Department understaffed and under equipped, presenting a serious public safety issue for our residents,” Tidwell wrote in a letter to the City Council dated Oct. 31.
(Tidwell declined to speak with a reporter directly, taking questions only by email. He wrote that he could not provide more detailed answers by Monday afternoon.)
Newly-elected Piedmont Mayor Rick Freeman plans to ask the council next week to hire two officers, using money the city is now paying its existing officers to work overtime.
Freeman said Piedmont’s officers are overworked and sometimes unable to provide adequate police protection in their coverage area.
“We feel like bringing extra personnel will help protect our citizens,” Freeman said. “We need as much man power out there as we can get.”
Freeman later wants to hire two more officers and is looking for outside agencies that could provide grant money to help pay for them.
He would like the first two hires to be ready to begin patrolling as soon as they start their jobs. For those positions, Freeman said, the city is currently accepting applications from officers who have already received police training.
The officers he hopes to hire later can be less experienced, Freeman said. He said the city would be willing to hire those officers and pay for their police training.
In 2008, the department was near to being adequately staffed, according to Tidwell’s letter. At that time the department had 15 officers and was in the process of hiring one more, the letter states.
Attached to the letter Tidwell sent to the council was a 2010 report, in which Tidwell makes the case for hiring more officers.
The numbers in Tidwell’s report show that Piedmont has about 325 residents for every officer on the force.
According to Tidwell’s reports, Piedmont has fewer officers per resident than all but one city in Calhoun County – Weaver.
In a year-to-year budget comparison also presented to the council, Tidwell makes the case that the department’s budget has been reduced significantly, showing a cut of more than 10 percent from 2010-11 to 2011-12.
Councilman Bill Baker said that, like the chief and the mayor, he favors hiring new officers. But, he said, he is unsure if the city can afford the expense.
“I had told the mayor, whatever we need, certainly we need to pursue, but let’s make sure we have the money,” Baker said. “We do need some immediate help with the Police Department and I do feel we will be hiring some additional officers.
The City Council can vote on the matter as early as next Tuesday, at its next regularly scheduled meeting, Freeman said.
Star Staff Writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star