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Clarkston police officers speak to council about low pay, lack of support; council blocks pay raise discussion

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Clarkston police officers speak to council about low pay, lack of support; council blocks pay raise discussion

Clarkston City Hall and Police Department. Photo by Dean Hesse

Clarkston, GA — In an unusual move, several Clarkston police officers spoke about the state of the department during the public comment period at the June 6 city council meeting.

At that same meeting, council members blocked a discussion to discuss a proposed pay increase for officers, attempting to convince officers with one foot out the door to reconsider their decision to leave the city for other opportunities.

The department is critically understaffed due to low pay, according to Chief Christine Hudson. The officers who spoke concurred. Sgt. Dustin Bulcher said, “Without a pay adjustment, we are not going to get any qualified officers.” Bulcher emphasized that the current staffing problems were not the fault of Chief Christine Hudson but of low pay and lack of support.

“If the city continues to go down the current path, there will be no officers left,” Bulcher said.

Sgt. William Hilton said that the result of low pay is attrition, which creates an unsafe environment because there will only be one or two officers on shift at a time.

“I’ve had suspects try to kill me. I’ve been assaulted several times…all while serving in one of the lowest-paid police departments in the area,” Hilton said.

Officer Rashad Dillard said that the lack of backup due to low staffing added to both the stress and the danger of the job.

“I’ve been out here fighting for my life with no one to come and rescue me,” Dillard said. 

“If you do not make a change immediately, and put all of the petty stuff aside, I hate to see what will happen to the city and to the innocent people who live here,” Dillard added. 

Officer Patterson said that he was injured recently when responding to a home invasion, and got into a fight today when already hurt.

Patterson said the city shouldn’t annex more territory because they can barely take care of what the city already has.

At the beginning of the meeting, Councilmember Jamie Carroll had moved to add an item to the meeting agenda to discuss compensation for police officers. The addition was voted down by Vice Mayor Debra Johnson, Councilmember Awet Eyasu, and Councilmember Susan Hood. 

Following the meeting, Hood told Decaturish she supports raises but felt she didn’t have enough information about how it would affect the budget to make a decision at Tuesday’s meeting.

“Unfortunately, the appearance is that I and the other members were dismissing the issue,” Hood said. “In hindsight, it may have been better to add it to the agenda and explain that at this time there was not enough information. Again, speaking for myself, I support increasing police salaries and will vote to support this as soon as the information is provided.”

Carroll previously told Decaturish he intended to add a police pay raise to the agenda.

Resident Brian Medford said that the city is on fire, and the city council is oblivious to the flames and smoke. Medford indicated high staff turnover not only in the police department but in the city government overall.

“There’s a problem at the city hall annex, and the council is in full control of fixing it,” Medford said.

Resident Harry Kendricks spoke of his long residence in the city and said he was appalled at the council’s priorities. “How dare the city grapple with trivial issues, and not prioritize the safety of our citizens?” Kendricks asked.

Mark Perkins, a former city councilmember, spoke about political cynicism and the deterioration of the city’s reputation. Joshua Deaton praised the police officers, including Chief Hudson, and said that he’s been impressed with every interaction he has had with them.

City Manager Shawanna Qawiy chose to respond to the public comments and seemed to feel that some were aimed at her personally.

Qawiy appeared to allude to a grievance that Hudson filed against her and other criticisms that have been made of her management, including lack of responsiveness. Qawiy denied creating a toxic environment and asserted that she often responds to calls and emails in the middle of the night.

Qawiy said that a false narrative was being created when the facts were quite different, but she was not specific.

“The fingers that are pointed at me personally will not be tolerated. To know me is to know me,” Qawiy said. Earlier in the meeting, Mayor Beverly Burks had said that she wanted to acknowledge what was happening in the city, although she did not go into detail about what she meant.

“Not only do we care about our residents, we care about our staff,” Burks said. 

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