With limited investigators and hundreds of cases, it takes about seven months to complete one investigation. (WRDW-TV / July 29, 2011)
News 12 at 6 o'clock / Friday, July 29, 2011
AUSTELL, Ga. -- The duty of law enforcement to serve and protect in Georgia begins in Austell, just outside Atlanta.
Georgia Peace Officers Standards and Training, or P.O.S.T., certifies 59,000 law enforcement officers around the state. It's an organization on a tight budget, including a computer system that's 19 years old. A floor mat wasn't bought but donated.
And besides giving officers a gun and badge, a council decides whether or not to take them away.
"A baseball player doesn't get a hit every time they go up, but they up there trying to get on," said Executive Director Ken Vance. "Law enforcement is no different, they're trying to get it right."
With limited investigators and hundreds of cases, it takes about seven months to complete one investigation. Harwell's took 11 months.
"I wish we could do it in less time than that, but you gotta have manpower, you gotta have the logistics line up," Vance said.
But it took nearly two years for P.O.S.T. to even begin the investigation into Charles Harwell, who has now been fired from four law enforcement agencies and has failed drug tests at multiple agencies and last May, was arrested in his patrol car for DUI of prescription drugs.
A P.O.S.T spokesman admitted they misplaced paperwork after Harwell failed a drug test in 2006. It happened while he was working for the Richmond County Sheriff's Office.
They began investigating two years later when Harwell was fired from the MCG Police Department for the same thing.
"Sometimes, things get in the cracks," Vance said. "I'm sorry that it happened. I apologize for P.O.S.T. for it happening. I do, I'll take the responsibility for it, but I know as many cases come through a week, it doesn't happen often, but I can't say it doesn't happen."
What does happen is some officers are investigated for drugs or alcohol. Of the 9,300 officers under investigation since 2008, 780, or nearly 8.5 percent, are because of drugs or alcohol. A DUI is the most common offense.
"It will really surprise me if this person [Harwell] gets another chance," he said.
While P.O.S.T. was investigating Harwell for his failed drug tests, a passenger in a car fleeing from his patrol car died. That was in 2008. But only officers charged with felonies are pulled off the streets before an investigation.
Harwell is no longer working in Lincoln County or with the Lincolton Police, meaning he's been fired from four agencies.
As for Lawson, he told News 12 he completed background checks, but both MCG and the Richmond County Sheriff's Office say he never called them for a check of Harwell's past.
A new law that went into effect July 1 requires P.O.S.T. to notify agencies if an officer is under investigation.