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APD policing streets despite staff shortage

Since 2009, the Athens Police Department has been operating with fewer and fewer officers. Despite local officials calling for a personnel increase, the department feels its effectiveness has not faded.

Last year a full staff for Athens police was 27 officers, but two positions were eliminated due to budget cuts, said Police Chief Tom Pyle. The department currently employs 23 officers. One position is vacant due to an officer who is deployed with the National Guard and the other position vacancy is not currently trying to be filled, Pyle said.

In response to the dwindling roster, residents raised concerns about crime in Athens at last week’s mayoral debate.

“We need more police officers,” said Republican challenger Randy Morris in response, adding a need for a “change in priority.”

Pyle said a smaller staff does not affect the department’s effectiveness.

“We have less staffing than past years,” he said. “I don’t believe that it effects our ability to respond to complaints.”

However, Pyle added it does hamper investigation activities.

The $3.5 million of funding for the department comes from the city’s roughly $11 million general fund, said Mayor Paul Wiehl.

“An increase in funding would be nice; but it’s not feasible,” Wiehl said.

The starting officer salary is about $22 per hour, according to the Athens City Auditor’s Office. City Council’s two officer cut saves the city about $84,000 annually.

In 2009, the amount of police in Athens matched that of other cities with similar populations, such as Chillicothe and Marietta, Wiehl added.

Currently Athens has one officer to every 1,036 citizens, which nearly doubles that of cities with similar populations. Chillicothe has one to every 608 citizens and Marietta has one to every 440.

“We are understaffed to our population, but that doesn’t account for OU,” Wiehl said.

Adding the 24 university police officers to the 23 Athens ones, the ratio is one officer to every 507 citizens. Including the Marietta College officers, Marietta’s ratio is one to every 327.

OUPD and the Athens County Sheriff’s office assist APD during large events such as Halloween weekend and the spring fests, Pyle said. For Halloween officers from other areas are brought in to assist.

“We have a lot of overtime with Halloween weekend,” Pyle said. “We have to deny vacation time.”

APD sees an increase in sick time after Halloween because of officers spending long hours outside in cold weather, he added.

“It’s a lot of hours without rest. It wears people down,” he said.

Despite the problems of long hours, Wiehl said APD and OUPD work together effectively and protect the city and campus.

“I know the fests and Halloween have a drain on resources, but the same as a festival in any other place would,” he said.

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