It was 2 a.m. and Jeanne Biddle heard something on her roof.
“I started hearing someone walking on my roof,” Biddle said. “It sounded like heavy footsteps.”
Biddle knew of a friend who was burglarized by someone breaking into their home through the roof, so she was especially alarmed.
“I was paralyzed with fear,” she said.
She called 9-1-1 and stayed on the phone line with the dispatcher until police arrived. After a search by two police officers the culprit was found — a large raccoon which had pulled away the metal soffit on Biddle’s house to climb into her attic.
“The police were so professional, but when I found out they only had three officers on duty, I felt so guilty,” she said. “But at that time of night, the people you trust the most are the police.”
Last month, Georgetown released an extensive report on the city’s finances and its impact on public services including the Georgetown Police Department. Much of Mayor Tom Prather’s early presentations focused on public safety and the city’s revenue dilemma to provide adequate pay and manpower to properly staff first responders.
“Not funding public safety to keep up with the population growth has seriously impacted agency operations,” the city’s report states. “The police department is stretched dangerously thin. At night, as 34,000 residents lock their doors, only three police officers and a supervisor are on patrol from midnight to 7 a.m. Two simultaneous calls is all it takes to completely occupy third shift.
“As the sun rises, first and second shifts operate solely on incident response.”
The report states the Georgetown Police Department is severely short-handed, but Prather said the lack of revenues has hampered the city’s ability to staff all first responder units. Currently the police department is six officers short of its authorized strength. The city report compares Georgetown to 18 peer cities in Kentucky where it ranks last with officers per capita. In 2018, Georgetown had 1.69 police officers were 1,000 residents, down from 3.68 officers per 1,000 residents in 1999
“Last year, we added zero employees to the city’s payroll,” Prather said noting that was despite the city’s continued growth.
As for the police department, the manpower shortage impacted multiple areas, the report states. It has been a decade since the city’s police department has operated a traffic enforcement unit, which means little radar enforcement, traffic accident prevention or DUI intervention, the report states. The result is collisions inside Georgetown’s city limits have increased 33 percent over the past nine years.
“We have become as efficient as we can using the manpower we have,” said Georgetown Police Chief Michael Bosse.
Under Bosse’s leadership the department has implemented retired police officer and part-time police officer units to help fill the void. These officers can be hired without requiring the city to pay into a pension fund.
But the discrepancy between what Georgetown pays for its officers and other Kentucky cities has grown over the years, Bosse said.
“We’re not as competitive (with salary and benefits) with our peers,” the chief said. “I couldn’t be more proud of the police officers we have. Fortunately, when we were more competitive, we hired some very good officers, so now we need to make sure to keep those good officers.
“But we don’t have enough officers to prevent issues. Last summer, we got a lot of calls about homeless people. They were camping near the Elkhorn (Creek), in people’s back yards, in the parks and people were scared. We should be able to have a unit just for that issue, so we could have dealt with it before anyone ever had to call, but we don’t have the resources.”
The GPD has lost 11 police officers to higher paying jobs in law enforcement or the private sector over the past four years.
“That’s 20 percent of the police force,” the report states.
The low wages have made it difficult to attract quality recruits and certified officers. The report states eight of the peer cities surveyed advertised recently for police officers and the salaries posted were an average of $8,600 more annually than what Georgetown offers in wages and benefits.
“Hiring recruits means paying them a salary for a full year while they are training, before they go on duty,” states the city report. “There’s no guarantee that recruit will graduate the academy or stay with (GPD) afterwards.
“Hiring an already certified peace officer has far more advantages, but Georgetown’s certified officer salary is not competitive enough to attract enough quality candidates.”
Mike Scogin can be reached at email@example.com.