Glynn County Police Chief Jacques Battiste covered a lot of ground in his first official address to the department’s citizen’s advisory committee, discussing everything from the need for competitive salaries to the department’s role in public safety during a recent nationally publicized murder trial.

During the Police Advisory Panel meeting Wednesday at the Old Courthouse, Battiste noted that the department went back to the unpopular 12-hour patrol shifts during the six-week murder trial that ended Nov. 24 with guilty verdicts against three men in the killing of a 25-year-old Ahmaud Arbery.

The department will remain on 12-hour shifts for the near future, anticipating calls for support during the federal hate crimes trial for the same three men next month in U.S. District Court in Brunswick.

County police are providing ancillary security support during the federal trial that begins Feb. 7, Battiste said. The department played a similar role during the state trial at the Glynn County Courthouse, participating in the multiagency Unified Command organization that mobilized to provide public safety and security.

Hundreds of local and out-of-state demonstrators and social activists gathered daily outside the courthouse during the state trial. Much of the same is expected for the federal trial, Battiste said.

No significant incidents occurred during the state trial and the county sheriff’s office reported no arrests at the courthouse.

Battiste said officer morale remains high despite the return to 12-hour shifts, mainly because officers understand they have an obligation to increase public safety during the trial.

The department will return to 10-hour shifts at some point after the trial, he said.

Former Glynn County Police Chief John Powell switched the department to 12-hour shifts in 2018, but he was fired after being arrested on malfeasance charges concerning an alleged coverup of an undercover narcotics officer’s misdeeds. His successor, Jay Wiggins, returned the department to the favored 10-hour shifts before retiring at the end of 2020.

The department stands at 113 sworn officers, well short of its full complement of 133 officers, Battiste said. Of the 113, 10 are in training to be certified.

Higher starting salaries would go a long way toward achieving the optimal number and maintaining it, vital goals in reestablishing the department’s state and national certifications, Battiste said.

Glynn County pays starting police officers $19.23 hourly, “totaling up to roughly $40,000,” Battiste said.

By comparison, he said, Sandy Springs pays its officers $55,000, with a $10,000 bonus for out of state hires. Conyers pays starting officers $46,700 annually and offers incremental raises beginning two years later at $49,000, he said. Smyrna’s starting police salary also is $46,700, he said.

“These are just examples of how we are going to have to be more competitive,” Battiste said.

Battiste said the county commission could soon have plans to offer higher pay and incentives to attract and keep quality officers. One problem, he said, is that the county faces pay inequity with similarly sized Georgia communities in areas such as fire-rescue.

Commissioners are also trying to improve incentives, he said.

“I feel confident that we will come up with a solution that will have a marked success in answering these questions,” Battiste said. “But they’re not trying to meet just the police department’s needs; they have to see the broader picture they have to address.”

Many officers receive valuable training with the county police department only to take the experience gained on to a higher-paying agency, long a grievance of the department’s upper command.

As part of the new objective to mend fences between the department and the community it serves, Battiste said his staff is working to ensure officers gain valuable experience unique to serving this community.

To this end, Batiste is making an effort to conduct ride-alongs with each officer to get a better understanding of daily interactions with the people they serve.

“I know it’s not going to be easy, but I believe we have the talent here,” he said. “Now, how do we draw in even newer talent.”

Part of gaining the trust of the community has to do with reflecting the community through the officers that serve it, Battiste said. He offered a comparison of the department’s racial demographics with that of the county. According to the 2020 U.S. census, Glynn County’s population is 69.2% White, 26.6% Black and 6.68% Hispanic, Battiste said. The department is 74.2% White, 19.9% Black and 16.2% Hispanic, Battiste said.

That breaks down to 74 White men who are sworn officers and 10 White women; 17 Black men and five Black women; and four Hispanic men and three Hispanic women, Battiste reported.

At one point in his address, Battiste noted the department’s response to a fatal shooting in the Satilla Shores community on Feb. 23, 2020. That was the day Arbery was shot to death after being chased through a neighborhood by armed men in pickup trucks. Glynn County police were on scene that day, talking to the suspects as Arbery’s body remained on a public street. No arrests were made that day or the next. No arrest was made until May 7 by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

The three men received life prison sentences as convicted murders Jan. 7 at the county courthouse.

“I want to look back on the day that young Ahmaud Arbery was laid down through a violent action,” Battiste said. “We want to look at how we responded as an agency, where were our shortfalls, where were our failures that day. How do we learn from that so that we don’t allow that level of incident to occur again and we not be fully prepared for it.”

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