In February, the Georgetown Police Department was understaffed and underpaid, according to a survey conducted by the City of Georgetown.
Now, some five months later and amidst a pandemic that shut down businesses and siphoned away city tax revenues, the police department may be nearing a crisis situation.
“The Georgetown Police Department went into this pandemic underpaid and under staffed,” said Police Chief Michael Bosse. “It has only gotten worse.”
GPD was short six officers in February, and since the pandemic began in March two additional officers have resigned, Bosse said. The News-Graphic has learned a third resignation has been turned in following the interview with Bosse.
“He has a very difficult job,” said Mayor Tom Prather about Bosse.
The city survey was conducted last year and was released early this year. The report compared Georgetown to 18 other peer cities in Kentucky and found Georgetown ranked last in officers er capita. In 2018, Georgetown had 1.69 police officers per 1,000 residents, down from 3.68 per 1,000 residents in 1999.
Besides staffing, Georgetown’s starting wage is as much as $8,600 annually less for a certified officer than eight nearby communities, forcing the GPD to hire recruits and pay for them to complete training. All too often, once the recruit completes training they realize the salaries are better elsewhere and they leave, Bosse said.
“Hiring recruits means paying them a salary for a full year while they are training,” Bosse said. “There’s no guarantee that recruit will graduate the academy or stay with (GPD) afterwards.”
Bosse 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.
It has been more than a decade since the GPD operated a traffic enforcement unit, which means little radar enforcement, traffic accident intervention or DUI intervention. Most nights, there are only four officers on duty.
Prather used the survey to show why the city needed additional funds, specifically for the police and first responders. He was almost methodical in laying out why a tax increase was necessary in a series of meetings with the public, community and business leaders. The city’s financial managers put together a new pay scale awarding police officers for their experience and bringing their salaries more in line with neighboring communities. The mayor made no secret the 2020-21 city budget would include salary increases for GPD and he openly said he felt he had enough votes on the council to make that happen.
Then the pandemic hit.
In one city revenue committee meeting amidst the pandemic shutdown, Prather announced he was pulling the new wage scale for police officers off the table. It was necessary, he said, in order to avoid layoffs in other city departments and to keep the city operating, “at minimum standards.”
During another meeting Prather acknowledged the police department was short-handed and passing a budget without a wage increase would likely lead to more officers leaving.
“I just hope we can weather the storm,” the mayor said.
With the pandemic showing no signs of easing, Bosse said the strains on the police department and the community are showing. Five shooting incidents in six weeks is unusual for Georgetown, but illustrates a greater problem, he said.
“GPD is just not staffed to deal with these kind of situations,” Bosse said. “There’s a lot going on in these neighborhoods, and Georgetown is large enough that we need neighborhood officer programs. That allows an officer to spend time in the neighborhood, get to know people and recognize issues before they become problems.
“All we can do now is respond after the shooting.”
Earlier in the year, Bosse said the city needs a unit to manage the growing number of homeless, but he did not have the manpower.
On Wednesday Bosse said he was disappointed with the most recent resignation from the department. The officer was an African-American, well-connected, professional and a great example of the type of police officer he wanted in his department, the chief said.
“He’s going to the private sector for a position where he’ll make over $20,000 a year more than if he stayed here,” Bosse said. “I can’t blame him for leaving. We have a good group of professionals in this department who are marketable. This turnover won’t change until we can pay them.”
The social unrest and national chants to defund police adds to the frustration and concern within the department, the chief said.
Even so, GPD knows the city’s residents care, he said.
“We feel supported by Georgetown,” Bosse said. “We really do.”
Mike Scogin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.