Police officers in the Alpine Village are finally getting some backup.
Five months after it was forced to lay off officers and implement furloughs, the Helen Police Department is the beneficiary of federal funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The $148,000 Justice Department grant announced this week pays for one entry-level officer’s salary and benefits for three years, with the city of Helen committed to picking up the fourth year.
The Helen Police Department was one of 48 agencies in Georgia awarded a total of $32 million in federal recovery money for 184 positions. Nationwide, the Justice Department distributed $1 billion in grants for 4,699 officers.
Helen Police Chief Ted Ray said the city’s revenues have picked up enough since layoffs in February that the department will be reinstating a second officer through the regular budget. "With this grant, that will give us two back," Ray said.
Currently, Helen has a police force of eight, counting the chief. The recent downsizing cut out all leave and vacation time for officers and left an eliminated backup during high-traffic hours. Until July, officers also had to cut their hours in incremental furloughs. "To their credit, the officers have been great about being here and not asking for time off," Ray said.
With Helen seeing much of its tourism traffic on weekends, one new officer will be assigned a weekend "midshift" from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. to back up officers in the busiest times, Ray said.
"If you only have one officer on duty and they get backed up, they have to prioritize," Ray said. A response could take as long as 30 minutes if an officer was on the other side of town, he said.
"Hopefully this will assist with reducing response times," Ray said.
U.S. Attorney David Nahmias said in a statement that law enforcement agencies across Georgia "are receiving badly needed officers who will help make our communities safer places to live."
"It’s great," Ray said. "I just wish we could have gotten a couple more positions."