Police, fire study seen as ‘positive’ for PTC with no major changes sought

The Peachtree City Council got a detailed overview Thursday night that recommended mostly minor changes to the city’s police and fire departments following an intensive investigation conducted by Matrix Consulting Group.

While a few personnel changes were recommended along with a host of other minor administrative changes, by and large the report gave a solid grade to both organizations.

One of the more significant concerns Matrix recommended is to keep a close eye on salaries compared to similar public safety positions in other cities, as losing talent can cost the city more money in training to hire replacements.

For the police department, Matrix official Byron Pipkin recommended that council keep the same amount of patrol officers since the current level allowed them to dedicate about 55 percent of their patrol hours to “proactive” duties including traffic safety enforcement, foot patrol, problem-oriented tasks to address crime and also quality of life community issues.

The other 45 percent of officers’ workload consisted of calls for service from the community, an average of 46 calls per day according to data Matrix collected.

One topic of discussion among council was the matter of increasing cart path patrols. The Matrix report noted that more than 1,000 hours were spent on path patrols, but new Councilman Mike King pointed out that doesn’t come close to an exhaustive coverage ratio.

Mayor Don Haddix said cart path patrols would need to be further assessed by council.

“It breaks down to very minimal hours on the paths, but then again if you decide to increase the number of hours on the path, you will decrease the time on the roads, and another problem is that other people want certain areas of the city for the roads to be patrolled more,” Haddix said.

Pipkin noted that the city doesn’t want to see a crime problem evolve on its path system to the point where the city must “react to it.”

“You want to try and be out in front of it,” Pipkin said.

Pipkin also noted that the police department has a very high level of followup on cases assigned to detectives which contributes to a case clearance rate significantly higher than the national average.

One of the more significant revelations of the Matrix report was that both the police and fire departments are having trouble with computer issues, and as such Matrix has recommended the city hire a full-time information technology employee who can assist both departments with addressing those problems.

City Manager Jim Pennington noted that the chiefs, the IT department and the finance department “are comfortable with where we are” in making progress on the various computer issues, much of which involve connection problems with mobile data terminals. Pennington added that a new contract to help the fire department’s computer network is imminent.

“I think both the police chief and the fire chief right now are very content with where we’re going and the forward motion that is taking place,” Pennington said, adding that much of the credit belongs to Finance Director Paul Salvatore.

On the fire department side, morale is on the upswing and Matrix recommended some personnel changes to align leadership structure. One of Matrix’s recommendations: to hire three firefighter/paramedics to fill three sergeant vacancies, was enacted by council Thursday night.

Matrix also recommended that the fire department adopt a system to assign a priority level to each call, with service level objectives attached to each priority level.

Other minor changes will be forthcoming down the road to address Matrix recommendations in the fire and police department, Pennington noted.

Councilwoman Kim Learnard said she took the Matrix report to be “a positive reflection on our chiefs.”

“You have good organizations here,” Pipkin told council. “... The overall tone of the organization is that you have people working that are progressive and want to move forward and serve the community.”

Mayor-elect Vanessa Fleisch said she feels the Matrix report “puts to rest” the matter of any turmoil in the departments in the wake of last year’s resignation of fire chief Ed Eiswerth following sexual harassment claims and a high-profile discrimination case filed by a former police staff assistant that was settled last month.

King noted that the quality of the city’s public safety agencies was a credit to the individual police officers and firefighters along with a reflection on the leadership as well.

“The main thing is the quality of the folks, men and women, who are out there in a patrol car and fire suit on a daily basis,” Councilman King said.

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