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Ga. public safety chief resigns over police staffing

The top public safety official resigned with acidic four-page letter, alleging that police staffing levels are dangerously low

By Dan Klepal
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

COBB COUNTY, Ga. — Cobb County's top public safety official resigned Monday with acidic four-page letter to county manager David Hankerson, alleging that police staffing levels are dangerously low and that Hankerson and other county officials refuse to do anything about it, even though they have known about the problem for more than a year.

Jack Forsythe, director of the county's Department of Public Safety, also said in the letter that the Atlanta Braves new stadium will exacerbate the problem if the county doesn't add more officers.

"For over a year now, the decision to increase the police department's authorized strength has been delayed or denied by continuing to request additional information that ... is not available, or (by) requests of duplicate information that has already been presented," the Jan. 6 letter says.

Forsythe went on to write that Hankerson has stonewallled his effort to commission a study that would document the need for more officers. Cobb's police department has more than 600 sworn officer and 150 civilian employees. Forsythe also was in charge of the county's fire department, 911 operations and animal control unit.

"You have stated that the county is not ready for what the report will say nor can the county afford the number of officers the report will say we need, therefore the study has not been given approval from your office to proceed even after I was directed" by Commission Chairman Tim Lee to have it completed, the letter says.

Forsythe's resignation takes effect Jan. 24 but he is on leave until then. Hankerson will recommend to the Cobb County Commission that Fire Chief Sam Heaton replace him permanently. Heaton served as interim public safety director from August 2010 through January 2013, and will again handle the job on an interim basis until the commission acts on the recommendation.

Lee did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment on the resignation and the allegations in the letter. The county's public relations office released statements by Hankerson and Lee Monday night, but neither addressed the substance of the letter.

Forsythe's performance appraisal for 2013 shows that he was given a "meets requirements" designation in all areas of his job, and for his overall performance.

However, the appraisal noted: "Communication with County Manager and the office is very poor. This area needs improvement more than any other area." It also noted that Forsythe missed public safety related events in the community "without any communication to the County Manager."

Forsythe's letter also hints at friction between him and Hankerson.

"You ... stated that I don't do things the Cobb Way," Forsythe's letter to Hankerson says. "It appears the Cobb Way is not to disagree or buck the current procedures, regardless of the validity or legality of the Cobb Way process."

Forsythe worked as a senior law enforcement official for NASA from 2003-11. He was working as a consultant from 2011 until hired by the county in December 2012.

Forsythe's letter also complains about his salary, which he says is "$30,000 below the national average." But the major thrust is the lack of police manpower.

"Public safety in Cobb County has suffered from a lack of sufficient funding and resources to properly sustain the appropriate level of personnel, facilities and equipment needed to provide an adequate level of protection for the citizens," the letter says. "This lack of support for public safety over the years has increased officer safety issues, reduced the number of officers available for calls, increased fire response times and ultimately (led to) the degradation of the morale of all public safety personnel."

Copyright 2014 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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