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We need to protect our crown jewels

First Posted: 6:38 am - June 25th, 2015

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At a Thomaston City Council meeting a few weeks ago, residents living near Weaver Park expressed their concerns about criminal and illegal activities going on at the park after dark and that police response to citizen complaints is lacking due to sometimes there being only two patrol officers working at night. Captain Sidney Corley of the Thomaston Police Department admitted that with only three officers on night shift, if one is out due to illness or a day off, there can sometimes be only two officers on patrol at night. He also noted that possible illegal activities at Weaver Park are no different than what is happening at the Greatest Generation Memorial Park or at Park Lane Park.

During that same meeting, Council member Gary Atwater urged residents to call 911 and report suspicious activity at the park, stating that if those doing the activities know someone is calling the police on them every time they do something, they’ll move elsewhere to do it. Atwater also called the city’s playgrounds the “crown jewels,” of Thomaston, being places where children can safely play, and that the city is doing its best to enhance the parks with new playground equipment and other amenities.

I’m all for parks for kids and families to use. Growing up in Decatur in the 1960’s and ‘70’s, we were pretty much limited to two parks – Glenlake, which had the city pool, tennis courts, a picnic pavilion and playground, and where we played Little League baseball, and an area behind the Rec. Center that had a playground and tennis courts.

Thomaston may soon have twice as many parks as we had in Decatur. You already have Greatest Generation Memorial Park, Park Street Playground, and Weaver Park, and may soon be adding Lake Thomaston Park to that list. The city council is preparing to vote on enhancing Lake Thomaston by building a combination boat house with restrooms/amphitheatre. If it is built, residents will be able to rent canoes and paddle boats for the lake, and can enjoy outdoor concerts at the amphitheatre.

And while abundant recreation amenities and opportunities for families is one of the criteria that industries look at when they are thinking about locating or relocating in an area, another criteria is safety. And that criteria has me concerned.

Currently, the Thomaston Police Department runs four patrol officers on day watch, four officers on evening watch, and three officers on night watch. That number is slightly better than what many consider to be the number of officers needed, based on population, which is one officer for every 1,000 citizens. According to the Census Bureau, in 2014 Thomaston had a population of just over 9,000, which would mean we would need 9 patrol officers, and we have 11. However, whenever an officer is out sick, or had a day off, or is gone to training, the number of officers on patrol drops. That has been the case several times on the night shift, where one of the three officers has been out, leaving just two patrol officers to cover the entire city. Depending on how many calls they receive on a given night, it could take up to two to three hours to get to some calls.

I have also heard, although I don’t have exact numbers, that the city fire department is also in need of more firefighters on duty.

To date, the city council has approved $1.1 million in city funds for improvements at the parks. For the boathouse/amphitheatre project at Lake Thomaston, costs are estimated to be $800,000. If that is approved at their July 7 meeting, the city will have dedicated $1.9 million to park improvements in 2015.

I think those funds would be better spent hiring and equipping more police officers and fire fighters. The budgets for the police and fire departments for 2015 total just over $3 million. I believe we could add four more patrol officers and several more firefighters, for substantially less than the $2 million being spent on parks, which would still leave money for the parks. Adding the four officers would bring each shift up to five officers each. Then, if an officer is out sick or on a day off or in training, it would still leave four officers on each shift to cover the city. That would provide the protection we need for our citizens and our parks.

If we want to keep our ‘crown jewels’ looking nice, we need to be able to protect both them and the citizens that use them.

Larry Stanford may be reached at 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @LarryStanford7.

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