Gainesville Police Chief Carol Martin likens her job to maintaining a seesaw in the city.
On one side of the plank is the enforcement of law. The other side is the relationship with the community.
“If you don’t have your good employees as the fulcrum, everything’s going to come crashing down,” Martin said.
Martin stepped into an interim position after Brian Kelly’s resignation in August 2014. She will reach her first full year as chief Tuesday.
Since Kelly’s departure, the chief counted 27 other officers and civilian staff leaving the department. Nine of those, Martin said, were for people moving to another department either for higher pay or moving closer to home.
“We’ve got some drive as far as Rabun County, and they get tired of the drive,” she said.
A June pay study showed city police officers compared to the market average made 4.8 percent less at entry level and 4.2 percent less at the pay grade midpoint.
City Council approved pay raises for current employees. Martin said the bump has been helpful, but the best recruitment for new hires has been through social media.
Martin said all positions in the department are now filled, her trainers working tirelessly to get the green hires ready for the road.
“It’s been busy — trying to maintain full staff, maintaining community relations and law enforcement,” Martin said.
Following the police academy, trainees complete a 49-day program with current Gainesville police officers.
Officer Cory Cummings, who has spent much of the last year training new officers, said the process is broken into three steps lasting 14 days.
“In the first 14 days, the trainee is somewhat in an observation phase,” Cummings said. “They’re being taught a lot of stuff. Each day there’s a lesson plan that we can go off of to make sure that we’re hitting everything.”
By the third step, the trainee is expected to be doing 90 percent of the work out on the calls.
“We still have to have our police hat on and our trainer hat on. It’s real stressful,” Cummings said. “While we’re handling a situation, we’re also having to make sure they’re positioned in the right manner so they’re still being safe. We got to also worry about maybe a suspect or someone that’s breaking the law.”
The last seven days of the program has the trainee on his/her own with a trainer following up with a complainant.
To ensure the trainee covers all aspects of the job with the police department, trainers have some seniority on picking up calls from dispatch, Cummings said.
“If they haven’t been to a domestic (dispute), if they haven’t been to a car accident with injuries where we need to go lights and sirens, if they’ve never done that, then of course we need to make sure we get them exposed to that,” he said.
Though safety is the goal, Cummings said the trainees must see the dangerous side to understand what they are jumping into headfirst.
“I can think of a few new officers that left because they were exposed to a murder scene or a 6-foot-5 knife-wielding (suspect) ... came out of the house with a big butcher knife and come toward us,” Cummings said. “In those traumatic experiences, they realized this wasn’t for them.”
In the past six weeks, uniformed officers on the road now have TASERs as a less lethal option, Martin said..
“Before, only a few had that. We implemented that so that anyone in uniform has more options if they confront someone,” she said.
With activities like the rolling Halloween candy giveaway or the newly minted “Coffee with a Cop,” Martin said she and the reorganized community relations team are looking to find new ways to engage with Gainesville’s residents. The atmosphere, Martin said, allows for relaxed conversation to reach a deeper understanding of one another.
“Usually when a person meets an officer, it’s on their worst day. They’ve been in a traffic accident,” Martin said. “Their house has been burglarized or someone’s been assaulted. This way it gives them a chance to talk to us in an non-adversary way.”
The big focus for the department in 2016 will be data-driven analysis partially modeled after the Gwinnett County Police Department. Units will present what they’re seeing on patrol and compare it with the data analysis to readjust to the hotspots, Martin said.
“They come up with the ways to address their problems. We show them where it’s at and give them the power to try to adjust it.”