Approximately 15 volunteers with more than 150 years of law enforcement experience combined gathered in the headquarters of the Governor’s Commission on Brookhaven Wednesday night to begin the business of the police committee.
There were former FBI officials, detectives, fraud investigators, police officers and others who met because they wanted to make Brookhaven’s future police department the best it can be, they said.
“I am doing this because this is where I grew up. I was born here. I was raised here, and I want to make this a police department that others look to,” said Mark von Tschirschky, a Brookhaven resident with 16 years of law enforcement experience. He was tapped in 2002 to serve as a federally deputized Task Force agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Sandy Springs Police Chief Terry Sult, who has served as the city’s chief for the last four years, provided insight for the committee members.
Sult is the appointed expert for the commission’s police committee. He served 30 years with the police department in Charlotte and then headed up the Gastonia Police Department for four years as police chief.
“We’re on the right track,” Sult told the police committee volunteers before offering them a list of tasks to accomplish so that the council has all the needed information to set up its police department.
The group needs to:
1. Determine the size of the organization.
An estimate for a police department’s size can be determined by the size of the population it serves and the square miles of the area it will cover. Sult said Dunwoody has approximately one officer per 1,000 residents, and Sandy Springs has about 1.27 officers per 1,000 residents.
He estimates that Brookhaven may start with 50 to 58 police officers.
Population is not the sole factor in determining the size of a police force, he said. Square miles and crime statistics should also be considered. The committee should request information from the DeKalb Police Department and from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, like the number of calls for service the area receives and the FBI uniform crime rate of the area, he explained.
2. Establish a competitive salary range, comparable to that of Dunwoody and Sandy Springs police departments. Sult also suggested that the city look into 401A and 457 accounts for its law enforcement officials.
3. Analyze the type of patrol cars that will be used and how many will be needed. Car type and usage can be a huge recruiting tool, Sult said.
4. Find an entity to dispatch units. Johns Creek and Sandy Springs jointly operate the Chattahoochee River 9-1-1 Authority, also called ChattComm. Dunwoody is a ChattComm subscriber. Sult said for Brookhaven to also become a ChattComm subscriber, it would have to pay the authority enough to offset the liability it will absorb by also dispatching Brookhaven officers. Because of this, the city may choose instead to establish a contract with DeKalb’s 911 center, Sult said.
5. Hammer out a preliminary police department budget. Sult said patrol cars will cost about $48,000 each and equipment for officers will run the city about $12,000 per officer.
“You will not have a police department stood up in December. It’s not going to happen. It simply is not going to happen,” Sult said. “Before you can hire the first person, you’ve got to have the City. You’ve got to have the budget. You’ve got to have all that approved.”
None of the recently incorporated Georgia cities had a police department set up on the city’s first day. DeKalb County charged Dunwoody $400,000 a month for the continuation of services until the city full established its police department.
The committee members discussed a range of topics from fuel costs to what to do with resumes from possible Chief of Police and officer candidates.
They also provided taskforce reports. So far, the members have contacted vendors about police equipment, visited with Dunwoody Police Chief Billy Grogan and met with Sult.
The volunteer police taskforce, created before the commission was appointed, has met every Wednesday for six weeks (and met regularly before the Brookhaven cityhood vote on July 31). The taskforce synthesized all its research and data into Google Docs and set up an internal email list.
“Everything has to start once the council sits that first night and waves a magic wand and does its mass approval of everything from ordinances on down, but you’ve got to be ready to go,” Sult said.