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City hires 9 new police officers — Chief wants more on duty to patrol

The ranks of the Brookhaven blue have grown by at least nine officers in the last two months, but more are needed to cover the city’s streets 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Brookhaven Board of Aldermen approved the hire of seven non-certified officers recently — Charles Hart, Travis Bonham, Kristopher Coleman, Logan Fuller, Tyrus Daniels, Otis Dyer and Tanner Hemby. They also approved certified officers James K. White and Taylor Wells.

Non-certified officers earn around $27,500 annually, while being certified brings in about $3,000 more a year.

Police Chief Kenneth Collins said this is the most staffed the department has been in years, but it’s not enough to adequately protect the residents and businesses in the city.

He plans to ask for more.

“The only thing I can do is try to put more officers on the street and try to stay more involved with the people, because we have a good town,” he said. “We have to keep up with the growth of the city.”

The 2010 Census puts the population of Brookhaven at 12,500.

According to the 2017 Census Population Estimate released in July, that number had dropped to 12,173.

Collins told aldermen at a board meeting last week his officers respond to gun calls and auto burglaries every night. Earlier this month, a 10-year-old boy was accidentally shot in the head by someone displaying a gun that he’d allegedly stolen during a car burglary the night before. When officers arrived at the crime scene, they were initially outnumbered and it was only with the help of Lincoln County deputies and other law enforcement officers, as well as some private citizens, that allowed them to get control of the scene, he said.

Ward 1 Alderman Dorsey Cameron said he was concerned that more officers weren’t available.

“In a case like that, you need to have enough officers to handle it,” he said.

Collins said it’s not just patrols and calls that take manpower from his department. He’s seen an increase in the number of events held in the city that require a police presence. Officers patrol church parking lots on Sunday mornings and visit each school campus daily during the school year.

“We have a lot of events going on all the time in Brookhaven and it’s requiring so much of the police department’s time and assets to keep these events covered and keep them safe,” he said. “You have a tremendous amount of 5K runs, and all these different events coming to town, all these different basketball and football games. You’ve got a flood of people coming into town for these events and it’s our job to keep them safe and to protect their cars while they’re here, and direct traffic to help get them out of town.”

Collins said officers patrol the campus and the parking lots during games in addition to having officers inside the gym or football stadium. They’re also at parades, festivals, 5K runs and any public gathering of people.

“My job is to keep the whole community safe,” he said.

Only one of the seven non-certified officers is currently attending police training academy. Four or five will be going in September and the rest will go in October.

“They still have to be trained,” he said. “They still have to learn the street. It’s still a process even with these seven.”

In the meantime, Collins has the rookies riding the streets with seasoned veterans to learn the area. They’re learning the laws of Brookhaven, meeting residents and business owners and getting time in at the firing range.