CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) - The county manager and police chief said they're right where they expected to be when it comes to launching the new police force despite serious hiring challenges.
The chairman said all along that he wanted to have a self-sustaining police force by Feb. 1. While that was the goal, some county leaders said that wasn't realistic.
"Obviously, we were hoping to meet the goal, but we knew realistically that this would probably be the issue," said County Manager Lee Smith. "We knew very well based on recruitment of other departments, not just here, even in some suburban or urbanized areas, they're struggling."
The new chief said he's not surprised either, given the climate today when it comes to hiring police officers.
"None whatsoever. We knew it was going to be challenging. You're going to hit some roadblocks along the way. That's why we started kind of expanding our thinking around who else should we be looking at hiring," Chatham County Police Chief Jeff Hadley said.
Within the last couple weeks, they've opened applications up to out-of-state POST-certified applicants and new recruits. They started out only hiring applicants who were POST-certified in Georgia.
"We want to hire the right people. I don't want to be sitting back here in six months from now answering questions from someone like yourself that says 'why would we hire someone like that who did something like that,'" Hadley said.
Looking at the numbers, 44 officers are on the force right now. Fifty-one more are in the application process. A little more than 50 have applied but not been processed yet. The department is hoping to hire between 120 and 130 officers.
"We're working extremely hard to bring that to them. It's going to take time. We appreciate their patience. I understand there's a lot of noise out there about what we're doing and how we're doing it," Hadley said. "I believe in my heart with the team that we have here, that in short fashion we'll get the quality of people that we want. We'll bring them on the department the way we would like them. We would build the culture of the Chatham County Police Department that this community can be proud of and we can be proud of."
Despite these challenges, the county manager said launching the new police force, as opposed to working with the sheriff, was the right move for the county.
In the meantime, the county will rely on surrounding municipalities or the sheriff to help patrol unincorporated Chatham County. So far, Smith said Port Wentworth is the only agency to officially commit. Smith added several of the others expressed interest though.