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Flowery Branch police adjust to citys growth
Officer safety is main concern
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Flowery Branch Police Officer Jake Xayavong prepares to begin patrol. - photo by File photo

Before an economic decline halted much of the building industry, Flowery Branch was one of the fastest growing cities in the state.

According to census data, the city's population has increased more than 200 percent since 2000.

The city has had to adjust to that growth, and if the trend of population increase picks up where it left off before the recession, officials will again have to adjust.

"Things have kind of slowed down at this point," City Manager Bill Andrew said. "We haven't really had a lot of building starts for a couple of years."

Among the departments affected, the Flowery Branch Police Department has undergone much of that adjustment.

Since 2004, when Police Chief Gerald Lanich assumed his post, the department increased from six officers to its current number of 13, plus two support staff.

"Unfortunately the economy slowed down, but we did grow some," Lanich said. "We have been keeping up with (the city's growth).

Officials hope it's just a matter of time before the city sparks another growth spurt.

"We're at a slowdown ... which we're able to maintain. But, of course, the city will have to readdress that when the economy starts back or more houses are being built," Lanich said.

"I think Flowery Branch is such a good area ... that when the economy comes back it will start to grow."

Any recommendations by the police department for increased staff or additional equipment requires approval for the Flowery Branch City Council. Lanich said it has been responsive to those requests.

"The city council, the mayor and the city manager have been very understanding in realizing that we want to maintain a quality of service for the people in the community," Lanich said.

But budget restraints have placed some limitations on the department, just as they have in other areas of the city's dealings. Since the economy has slowed, not as much revenue is reaching county pockets. Because much of the city is residential, business was already sparse in the area.

Although he understands it's not in the city's financial future, Lanich said the department could operate more effectively with additional officers and equipment.

"We do need additional personnel. There's no doubt," he said. "Of course, there's always new and better equipment that would help us out, but we're doing fairly well. We're treading water and hopefully in the future we can look at additional personnel and possibly some more equipment."

Andrew said he believes the department could use additional officers, but when one officer is hired, it's necessary to hire two more based on shift requirements.

The costs required to hire that number of additional personnel, plus the added costs of patrol cars, is beyond the city's budget allocation.

Andrew said a main concern is officer safety and whether necessary backup is available, and if too much is demanded of officers.

"I don't think we're at that point yet, but at some point we could be approaching that level and we would have to consider it then," he said.

But some requests for additional equipment have been granted.

The department recently received six new Chevrolet Impala patrol cars — five for the patrol division and one for an investigator. Those costs were covered by special purpose local option sales tax funds in the range of $121,000, Andrew said.

"We have bought Chevrolet Impalas in the past and had really good service out of them," Lanich said. "We will probably continue to purchase those."

Additional equipment and even personnel can't completely eliminate all crime, though. Lanich said it's understood that as population grows, so will crime.

"I think it shows everywhere else that as the population increases and businesses come in, of course, crime comes with it," he said.

In September, the police department investigated the city's first ever murder.

A Hall County grand jury indicted Randall Lewis Breazeale in October in the murder of a Lawrenceville man. The stabbing death of Tony Caswell Reece occurred in a unit of Hillside Apartments off Chattahoochee Street.

"I would say that we have been very fortunate in not having any murders or things like that in the past," Lanich said. "We have had our normal issues, but that was pretty devastating to the community to have that happen here."

Despite Lanich's desire for increased staff and equipment, he still maintains the department's ability to effectively police.

"We're fairing fairly well and it's important to us that the people of our town, within three to five minutes will have a police officer if they need one," Lanich said.

 

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