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Clarkston police department in freefall as officers quit, chief announces plans to leave

Clarkston Crime and public safety Trending

Clarkston police department in freefall as officers quit, chief announces plans to leave

Clarkston City Hall and Police Department. Photo by Dean Hesse

Clarkston, GA — Clarkston’s police department has been in crisis for months, amid warnings from Chief Christine Hudson and vocal complaints from officers that they were understaffed, underpaid, and in danger due to lack of backup.

According to Hudson, from a full complement of 21 officers, the department is down to 14, but that number will drop even lower quickly. Hudson said there are resignations that have already been turned in, another officer is resigning tomorrow, and yet another by the end of the week, bringing the number of officers down to 12. By the end of July, Hudson said, Clarkston will have only 9 officers in their police department.

“My priority is always the safety of Clarkston residents,” Hudson said.

The city is scrambling to hire more officers by holding a job fair on July 12 and hopes that offering signing bonuses for new officers and retention bonuses for those who stay will reverse course, but those efforts may not be enough.

The city did announce an 8% raise for all city staff and a 12.5% increase in the starting salary for police officers, which rose from $42,000 to $52,000, but at least one councilmember wants Clarkston to offer higher salaries to its officers.

“I would like to increase the salary of the police force more than it currently is,” Councilmember Jamie Carroll said. “That is not currently the consensus of the council.”

Both officers and residents perceive the city as not taking the problem seriously. 

At the June 6 city council meeting at which officers spoke about their working conditions, Councilmember Jamie Carroll moved to add compensation for police officers to the agenda at the beginning of the meeting. The motion was voted down by Vice Mayor Debra Johnson, Councilmember Awet Eyasu, and Councilmember Susan Hood. Hood later said that she felt that she didn’t have enough information to decide.

Resident Amy Medford described the raise announced in June as “a small token, and not enough.”

Medford questioned why the council hasn’t met to raise salaries further. Medford said that the public perception is that the city council is avoiding discussion of the city’s problems out in the open, with disastrous results.

“We are now in a worse place than we were thirty days ago,” Medford said. “…Right now, your legacy is as the council that let the police department disappear.”

Mayor Beverly Burks has previously said that Clarkston would seek to coordinate with the DeKalb County Police Department to provide adequate coverage for Clarkston. However, according to a column published by Decaturish in December, DeKalb has fewer than 600 police officers to cover about the same population that Atlanta covers with 1,800 officers, and most police departments in the metro area are understaffed.

When asked how the city could hire more officers and retain those they still have in the current environment, City Manager Shawanna Qawiy responded that the city would “look to leadership,” and clarified that she meant the police chief.

However, Hudson, who filed a grievance against Qawiy in April, may not be there much longer either. 

Hudson, an award-winning officer who joined the Clarkston Police Department in 2009, has been Chief of Police since 2012.

Hudson said that she had originally planned to stay until she retired, but now is looking elsewhere and did not plan to continue police work. Hudson was visibly upset by the deteriorating state of the department she has led for 11 years.

“It’s really sad. It breaks my heart,” Hudson said.

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