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Interim Ga. police chief seeks to raise morale, pay by cutting 44 budgeted positions

“My goal when I first came here was to eliminate everyone leaving,” Chief Stoney Mathis said


Mathis said that the Columbus Police Department is currently around 190 officers down from the budgeted figure. About 292 officers are currently on street detail.

Columbus Georgia Police Department

By Kelby Hutchison
Columbus Ledger-Enquirer

COLUMBUS, Ga. — Interim police chief Stoney Mathis took over as interim police chief in May of this year after Columbus mayor Skip Henderson invoked his executive powers to appoint Mathis.

Since then he has been trying to tackle multiple issues he sees within the department.

Mathis, with experience as police chief for two other police departments under his belt, has set out to fix concerns such as low morale on a more permanent basis.

Mathis also has thrown his hat in the ring to become full-time chief of the department.

A privately funded study conducted by Jensen-Hughes that served as the impetus for former chief of police Freddie Blackmon’s dismissal cited low morale and gang violence as concerns.

Blackmon’s attorney’s argued that the study relied heavily on Columbus’s Fraternal Order of Police which was critical of Blackmon. The group is led by Lt. Ralph Dowe, who is white, and who has sued the city citing he was denied a promotion due to his race.

Though Mathis had no original intentions of leading the department permanently when he took the job, he has since changed his mind.

“It’s an opportunity for me to come into this organization and just help these police officers out, get them back up on their feet, get them where they’re back proud of the police department, proud of the job that they’re doing, show the community that we really do have an opportunity to reduce the crime rate, build the relationships with the community, and this can all be done very quickly,” Mathis said.

Mathis discussed his new pay plan and other issues he has seen within the department and city and how he plans on fixing them.

To help boost morale Mathis has come up with a plan to cut 44 positions from the budgeted amount of around 480 officers in order to provide a $5,000 pay raise to each 911 dispatcher and police officer to help boost officer retention levels in the department. The proposed cuts would save approximately $2.5 million in order to allow for the pay raise, he says.

Mathis said that he went through the records back to 2012 and saw that the department would typically hire about 50 officers a year and lose about the same amount each year.

“My goal when I first came here was to eliminate everyone leaving,” Mathis said. “You can’t make them stay, but what you can do is you can make the work environment so enticing that people feel like they’re part of a family and they don’t want to leave.”

Mathis said that the Columbus Police Department is currently around 190 officers down from the budgeted figure. About 292 officers are currently on street detail.

“My contention is, if we pay them more and we do a better job recruiting we can at least get back up to 400 police officers,” Mathis said. He said that if he had 100 more police officers than what he currently has he could put more of his strategic crime reduction plans into place.

Mathis said that when officers are stuck going from call to call due to low staffing it makes it harder for proactive policing to reduce crime

Taking action to improve morale and reduce crime

Mathis said one goal he has is to reduce burglaries and entering automobiles to prevent people from stealing weapons and committing more violent crimes.

“The more guns we get off the street the better it is for the community,” Mathis said. The Columbus Police Department along with other local law enforcement agencies including the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office conducted Operation “Honeybadger” in June which helped lead to the seizure of 30 illegal firearms in the area.

Mathis said that fewer guns on the street can also possibly lead to lower homicide levels.

The department has also switched to 12 hour shifts which has placed more police officers on the street, according to Mathis. This has also allowed Mathis to place one officer per shift in a specialized unit.

Mathis has begun an initiative to hire and place 30 people into the September police academy class. He said that they currently have 24 people heading to the September police academy with around 30 people in the hiring process.

One reason for additional applicants could be the streamlining of the application process

Morale has been boosted by city council passing a resolution to allow CPD officers who live in Alabama to take their patrol cars home, according to Mathis.

Mathis has made other small changes such as allowing officers to wear hats and getting rid of harsh punishments for minor infractions. One such change is getting rid of policies such as officers being given a day suspension if they hit a curb in their car or were more than 20 minutes late.

“These officers already don’t make any money and then we’re going to take money for them because if you get suspended for a day you don’t get paid,” Mathis said.

Why does Mathis want the full-time job?

Mathis said he doesn’t want to leave when the department has gained some positive momentum only for another police chief to come in and change things.

“I think that I have the aptitude and the personality to continue to make this place better; that’s the only reason I’ve applied,” Mathis said.

Mathis said if he were to receive the full time position he would likely commit to three to five years during which time he could find someone within or outside the department to mentor to help them to possibly become the new chief.

This story was originally published September 6, 2023, 5:00 AM.


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