By: Rod Moore
HELEN — The City of Helen has joined the ranks of jurisdictions that is working to maintain its police force.
Following a closed session at the end of Tuesday’s meeting, the Helen City Commission voted, on the motion of Commissioner Cinnamon Spurlock, to increase starting pay for police officers up to $19 per hour.
“I would like to make the following recommendation or motion that the rest of the commission consider that all full-time police department employees receive a pay increase of $2.50 an hour, with an effective date of the pay period starting April 12, 2018,” Spurlock said.
Several employees of the police department attended Tuesday morning’s meeting.
“We had asked for a pay increase to try and retain the officers that we have and also to try and attract new officers,” Police Chief Brian Stephens told AccessWDUN after the meeting. “They saw fit to give us a pay raise. We received $2.50 an hour across the board. It jumps our starting pay up to $19 an hour. It’s a very good morale booster for the officers here, and for obtaining new officers. I’m very pleased with their decision.”
Stephens said he currently has nine full-time officers, three or four part-time officers, and four contract officers.
Helen consistently ranks among the top three tourist destinations in the state, bringing in several million visitors each year. Police officers are tasked with balancing the needs of local residents and businesses, while also serving those visitors.
Stephens said he isn’t happy with the number of officers on the roster at this time, but he noted the number of officers tends to drop a little bit each spring then picks up as the tourist season approaches starting around Memorial Day.
“We’ll start getting our part-time officers and contract officers in to where we’ll have a total of 20 officers and at that point it makes me breathe a little better,” Stephens said.
Spurlock said the city’s police force does a good job handling the needs of the city.
“I’m very happy to report that our police officer staff — the size of our staff in relation to the number of tourists that come into town — they do a stellar job of handling all of the guests that we have that come from everywhere, and they’re able to handle it with a relatively small, but well-educated and trained staff,” Spurlock said.
Stephens told commissioners he is proud of his force, and he echoed that sentiment to AccessWDUN.
“We’ve got some well-dedicated officers,” Stephens said. “I couldn’t ask for a better group. I’m very proud of the officers we have here at the Helen Police Department.”
In the past three years, drug arrests are up, fights are down, and assaults are down in Helen, Stephens told commissioners during his report at the commission meeting Tuesday. He credits improvements in those numbers to more aggressive drug enforcement efforts, and to new patrol strategies implemented especially at bar closing time.