Anniston Housing Authority affected by APD manpower shortage
by Laura Camper
lcamper@annistonstar.com
Aug 25, 2012 | 4754 views |  0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A shortage of officers to patrol the Anniston Housing Authority’s 10 properties has prompted the agency’s board of commissioners to seek other ways to police the complexes.

At the board meeting on Thursday, Lt. Allen George told the members that the Anniston Police Department is down 17 officers from full staff.

Full staff for the Anniston Police Department is 96 officers, George said. Right now, the department has 90 officers, but seven of those have not attended the police academy and won’t be fully trained until the spring; four are in the midst of training and won’t be through for another three months. Four other officers have given notice that they will be retiring and department leaders say there’s a possibility that three or four others may be leaving for other departments.

“So it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” George said.

The department has already cut its street crimes program and may downsize other programs because it doesn’t have the “boots on the ground” to run them, George said.

The housing police program was established in 1998 with 20 officers, said George, who was one of the original officers. The program was started with grants to pay for officers to curb drug activity and lower the crime rate in the housing projects, reduce the fear of crime and to develop a rapport with residents, he said.

“Now we’re trying to reach those same goals with less manpower and less hours that we can have people in the complexes,” George said.

There are currently 14 officers in the program, three supervisors and 11 officers.

Each officer in the program works a full week for the city, and then puts in additional four-hour days at the housing complexes, he said, for a total average of 16 to 20 hours there every two weeks.

Last month there were five arrests at Glen Addie Homes, several trespass arrests at Cooper Homes, three arrests at Norwood, four arrests at Constantine Homes, two arrests at Barber Terrace and one at Tinsley Manor; officers also responded to a reported theft at Southern Ridge, George said. Often, non-residents are the people committing the crimes. Only seven of the arrests were residents of the complexes, George said. The housing police program has operated continuously with the exception of one year in which the grant was not funded, George said.

“There was a significant increase in crime when that occurred,” he said.

The newest housing board member, David Dethrage, suggested that the authority could look into electronic surveillance to ease the manpower crunch.

“Anything that we could do that would increase our efficiencies like using electronic surveillance would be beneficial,” Dethrage said.

George said the Federal Bureau of Investigation had mounted a camera near Norwood Homes shortly after Officer Justin Sollohub was killed nearby. It has since been removed.

“Street crime guys and some of our guys made several good drug arrests and weapons arrests,” George said.

Authorities were able to secretly install the hidden camera, but if the criminals know it’s there, they will shoot the camera out, George said. The authority already has a problem with lights on housing development grounds being shot out.

“They shoot them out as fast as we can change them,” said Kathy Dreyer, president of the Housing Authority’s board.

Dethrage suggested new technology might make the cameras easier to conceal.

But the rest of the board members wondered how the authority would pay for the equipment.

“I think we ought to investigate,” said Dethrage, a former mayor of Anniston. “We could ask the city for CDBG money, Community Development Block Grant money. We could try and get grants from other sources. But first off we’ve got to know the cost.”

Dreyer said she would make some calls to get proposals and report back to the board.

In other business at the meeting, board members unanimously approved striping cars for the officers to allow residents to recognize police when they are patrolling the complex. It’s something the authorities used to do, but stopped, thinking unmarked cars would allow the officers to catch more crime in progress. The new striping will cost $100 a car.

Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.

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