Police enacting new work week for annexation

Published 5:00 am Friday, June 29, 2007

With annexation taking effect on Sunday and almost tripling thecity’s size, it looks as though the mettle of Brookhaven’s finestwill be tested just a little.

In spite of the additional area they’ll have to cover,Brookhaven Police Chief Pap Henderson has said many times thedepartment will be ready for the transition. BPD also takes overthe job of covering the area just days before the Fourth of July, atime when there is usually plenty of activity anyway.

Henderson said he met with the police force Wednesday to discusspreparations and changes for the new area they’ll have to coverstarting Sunday. The officers were told about the new area and newwork schedules, and they were allowed to ask questions.

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“It was a good meeting,” Henderson said. “Everyone received thenews quite well. I gave them individual maps of the new area, andeach car has a map in it as well.”

Henderson said at least until his men and women know the area,each officer will go to a six-day work week.

“It’s just to kick it off like we need to, until we get our feetwet and we’re as familiar with those areas as we are the ones wework in now,” Henderson said. “It will give us the opportunity toget ourselves established in the new annexation area.”

City officials are looking to recruit nine officers as a resultof the larger coverage area. The six-day weeks will be in effectuntil officers are familiar with the area or new officers arehired.

Police officers are on salary, with a certified patrolmanbringing home just $1,825 before taxes per month. Henderson said aquestion was raised in the meeting about pay.

“I didn’t give them the answer they wanted to hear,” saidHenderson. “I request a raise for my department from the city everyyear, and the city needs to know we need more money whether we’reannexing or not.”

Henderson said for the risk a police officer takes on, the moneyhis officers are receiving is low and almost demoralizing,especially compared to other departments in the area.

“Let me give you an example: Two months ago, McComb gave eachofficer a $5,000 a year raise, effective immediately across theboard,” he said. “And frankly, everybody that works in thisdepartment deserves more money.”

Henderson said he has spoken to the mayor and some of thealdermen about the possibilities of a raise in the new budget,which the board puts together in September.

“The mayor is working for it, and some of the aldermen,” hesaid. “Some of them understand we have to be able to entice goodpeople to work for us in order to continue to improve ourdepartment and our city.”

Mayor Bob Massengill said the budget will be under considerationin coming months. He said he had no way to tell what decision theboard of aldermen would make, but that he hoped the extra workcaused by the annexation would factor into the decision.

“The board makes a decision on all wages and all raises, not themayor,” he said. “But my hope would be that this extra effortpeople are putting in whether it be from firemen or policemen orany other department, I hope the board would take that intoconsideration.”

Ward Two Alderman Terry Bates said the police department andfire department should get special consideration when the budget ismade out for the next year.

“That’s the concern – when those guys put on their uniformsthey’re in harm’s way,” he said.

Bates said whatever the outcome, the city workers of Brookhaven,particularly the police and fire departments, could be assured theywere being thought about.

“I can’t tell you what we’re going to do and what the decisionis going to be, but we’ll be behind closed doors working on it,” hesaid.

Henderson said correcting the pay problem, however, is crucialto the life of the Brookhaven Police Department.

“I’m trying to keep people, and I’m trying to recruit the kindof officers we need to protect our city,” he said.

Bates said at budget time, pay scales are the main focus of theboard’s deliberations.

“We want good officers, we want the best, but the pay’s got tobe up there. That’s what we fight for; we don’t want to hold backfrom these guys,” he said. “That’s our biggest thing we look at ispay raises, because most of those other things – what we’ll billand what we’ll buy – stay the same.”

Henderson said other questions were asked about BPD’s coverageof Highway 84 and Interstate 55, and that they will have the sameunderstanding worked out with the Highway Patrol that the LincolnCounty Sheriff’s Department has been working with for years.

“The state troopers will still handle I-55 and 84, and it’sgoing to be the same with us unless we’re told different by theHighway Patrol,” he said. “And while we will cover these areas,we’re not going to concentrate on 55 or the 84 bypass. We haveother areas of the community we need to see about as well.”

He said another point of concern is areas that will be annexedinto the city that are large enough to hunt on.

“Well, people will be hunting during hunting season if theirland is big enough,” he said. “And that will fall to the game andfish department.”

And the immediate question of fireworks came up, as BPD willtake over the new areas the weekend before the Fourth of Julyholiday. Henderson said officers have been made aware there areplaces in the annexed area that will be allowed to sell and shootfireworks, but that this will be the last year.

Another change people in the annexation areas will have toacclimate to is the issue of radar.

“We’re still working on getting all the speed limit signs up,”Henderson said. “We’ll work with these people and give them somewarning time since we’ll be running radar in those areas andthey’ll need time to get used to that.”

Overall, though, Henderson said his men and women are ready forthe challenge that awaits them.

“Sunday,” he said, with a smile. “We look forward to it.”