Crime concerns take center stage

Published 7:53 pm Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Brookhaven Board of Aldermen dedicated almost their entiremeeting to the subject of crime Tuesday night.

The meeting covered discussions on everything from officer payto curfews to the overload and underfunding of youth court. Theissue of parents’ and mentors’ influence on children was also atopic of concern.

“Maybe some parents need mentoring instead of their kids,” saidBrookhaven Police Chief Pap Henderson.

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The discussion was kicked off by concerned citizen JohnnyPerkins, who spoke up on behalf of the Brookhaven PoliceDepartment.

Perkins told the board that, as a fourth-generation Brookhavenresident, part of the reason he and his family decided to return toBrookhaven was because of the crime-free environment. Citing theperceived rise in crime of late, Perkins told city officials it wastime to step up to the plate and give the police department what itneeds to fight crime effectively.

“The lack of police presence in significant numbers has made thecity a target for criminals,” he said. “We have a good chief andthe basic tools in place to put a stop to this crime wave; however,the city needs additional officers and vehicles as well as a payraise for officers so we can keep this department fullystaffed.”

Perkins went on to say the problem began when the city annexedin 2007.

“When Brookhaven increased its physical size, quadrupled it ortripled it or whatever we did, I don’t believe the additionalburden was compensated for by additional officers and equipment tocover the new city limits adequately,” he said. “I believe that’sthe genesis of the problem.”

And Henderson leveled with the board on the problem his officersare facing. He said pay is low enough that even when the city canhire good officers, they are often prone to get their training inBrookhaven and then move on to other higher-paying jobs.

“You’ve tried and you’re helping in every way you possibly can,but it’s about money. We do need a raise. We need a good payraise,” he said. “And you can’t compare Brookhaven PoliceDepartment with another department, you can’t do that.”

The chief pointed out that officers have to be hired that don’thave a criminal record, where that’s not always a disqualifier inother departments. In addition, he said, his men work around theclock and on holidays and weekends and overnights, and they’reforced to deal with situations other people can’t handle.

Mayor Les Bumgarner agreed.

“The police department is special. They can never back down,they can never walk away,” he said. “The fire department, if thefire is too hot, they don’t have to go in. Or if it’s raining theydon’t have to cut the grass, but if the police department has a joband they’re there there’s no backing up. That’s special and ittakes a special person to do that.”

Meanwhile, the board explored a number of topics with the chiefsuch as how to keep crime down in apartment complexes, and whatpossibilities there are for a citywide curfew.

“We should never let this town get like that,” Henderson saidabout a curfew. “That punishes a lot of good people for the actionsof a few.”

And the subject of community policing continued to come to thesurface. Henderson said he and Sheriff Steve Rushing are currentlydiscussing a CrimeStoppers program and that they will decide howthey want to do it very soon.

But, Henderson said, recent public scrutiny somewhat diminishesthe job he believes his men and women have been doing up until thispoint. And he took special exception to a question posed by WardFour Alderman Shirley Estes when she said someone had asked her ifthe officers sleep on the night shift.

“That’s not true… You can leave right now and go to the policestation and call everyone in and everyone out there will tell youyou never know when the chief is coming out. I’m not an 8 to 5man,” he said. “I may get up and come back out here at 1 o’clock inthe morning. I may be out at 3, 4, 5. … They never know when I’mcoming out. They need to find something else to talk about.”

Bumgarner also told the board that even though Henderson iselected, it’s the duty of the board to make sure that the policedepartment is adequately staffed and provided with goodequipment.

“The chief is elected to run the police department, and our jobis to provide the tools, training, equipment and personnel for himto be successful,” he said. “I think we’ve done a good job of that,and it might be time to step that up.”

Meanwhile, Bumgarner said his calculations show that to hirenine more police officers with cars would cost the city $450,000.That would put roughly 18 officers on each shift. And still, it’salso up to citizens to get involved in keeping their communitysafe, he said.

“Eighteen people can’t always watch out for 13,000 people.Senior citizens and single moms are afraid and they have reason tobe afraid, and somehow we’ve got to take that fear away from them,”Bumgarner said. “Morality in this country has gone to hell in ahandbasket, there’s no ifs ands or buts about it. With your help,the citizens and the aldermen, the police will be moreeffective.”