Harlem Public Safety Department splitting into 2

News 12 at 11 o'clock / Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012

HARLEM, Ga. -- Harlem has decided to split up its Public Safety Department.

Cross-training officers loses money for them, but in other places like Grovetown and Aiken, it saves money, making their biggest competition -- other Public Safety Departments.

"That is the unique challenge to find someone that has that fit to do both jobs, because not everybody is cut out to do both jobs. That is the struggle to be a Public Safety Agency," said Aiken Public Safety Lt. David Turno.

Across the border in Harlem, City Manager Jason Rizner says those candidates are few and far between.

When they do hire someone, they don't stay long.

"When we do find those individuals or when we hire them and get them trained, they're obviously attractive to other agencies," Rizner said.

For a city that only staffs six full-time officers and 25 volunteer firemen, it's hard to compete.

Grovetown has 42 Public Safety officers, and Aiken is slated for 91.

For them, combining as a Public Safety Department saves money.

"Public Safety over in Aiken, what we've been able to do is save the community money by using Public Safety officers who are cross-trained and can do all the jobs required," Turno said.

But for Harlem, the cost of cross-training and paying the overtime to fill the empty shifts is emptying their pockets.

Breaking up into separate departments seems to be the best answer.

"That piece alone will save us somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000 a year. This is going to allow us to bring on board a full-time fireman that'll be here during the week to respond to fire calls," Rizner said.

Officers in the department say they're glad to see the split.

"I think it's a positive step in that now the Fire Department can focus on fire related issues without trying to incorporate the Police Department and vice versa," Harlem Police Department Cpl. Patterson said.

"I think you'll continue to see a good level of fire service for the citizens here," Rizner said.

I also checked in with Chief Gary Owens over in Grovetown.

He remembers starting up as a Public Safety Department was tough. But today, he says being a combined agency helped.

His crew responded to a plant fire out of their jurisdiction in Thomson, but he still had officers equipped to handle a fire if one broke out close to home.

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