Police short before detective’s exit

MARIETTA – The recent announcement of the departure of a longtime Marietta Police Department detective means the department will soon be left with four patrolman vacancies.

Detective Troy Hawkins announced March 22 he will be taking a job with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office starting April 8.

The unfilled positions are somewhat of a strain on the department, which is already down two patrolmen thanks to funding cuts put in place several years ago, said Chief Brett McKitrick.

“Twelve-hour shifts, just by the nature, are great if you have enough people. But when you’re short, it’s hard to fill with overtime. Who wants overtime when they’ve just come off a 12-hour shift?” he said.

Hawkins, who has been with the department for nearly 18 years, cited a limited opportunity for advancement within the department as his reason for leaving.

The Marietta Police Department employs five sergeants, one captain and one chief at any given time.

Two sergeant positions have come open within the last five years and were awarded to Bob Heddleston and Greg Nohe, who have 30 and 26 years experience respectively, said McKitrick.

“Troy was the next one on the list but we don’t have a sergeant opening coming up for a couple more years,” he said.

Hawkins was essentially a patrolman in pay structure. According to the city auditor’s officer, his annual gross salary was $50,814.40.

Hawkins was hired as a lieutenant with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, a rank above sergeant, but a rank not available at the Marietta Police Department.

“There are a lot of lateral transfers available at the sheriff’s office. There’s a variety of jobs, duty wise,” said Hawkins.

As a lieutenant in the Intelligence Division, Hawkins will be making $27.01 an hour, or approximately $56,180.80 annually, based on 2,080 yearly hours, said Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks.

The position has been vacant for a couple of years, since Sheriff’s Detective Lt. Jeff Seevers retired, he said.

“I had not found the right person I was looking for to fill it. With Detective Hawkins, I saw an opportunity to put the right individual in the spot, someone with good meet and deal, intellectual and experience qualities,” said Mincks.

Because Hawkins is filling a vacant position, the funding is already in place, he said.

Funding is also in place to fill the four vacancies left at the Marietta Police Department, but the process is not necessarily an expedient one, said McKitrick.

Only applicants who have passed a civil service examination, including a physical component, can be considered for the job, he said.

“Those don’t always happen as quickly as want,” he added.

The last entry level civil service exam for the Marietta Police Department was administered in the fall of 2011, said Jeff Starner, chairman of the Civil Service Commission.

“We give the test as needed,” he said.

The commission learned at its last meeting six weeks ago that there were potential vacancies that needed filled and will hopefully solidify a civil service examination for those openings at their Wednesday meeting, said Starner.

However, neither he nor McKitrick had a hard time frame for when they expect the test to be administered or the positions filled.

The vacancies are the cause of some concern for Marietta City Council members, said Steve Thomas, D-3rd Ward, and chairman of the Police and Fire Committee.

“There’s definitely concern that we’re understaffed. It can sometimes cause some issues with overtime and we’re tight for money,” said Thomas.

Council members voiced that concern at the last police and fire committee meeting, but were told the issue was waiting for the civil service board to set up a test, said Thomas.

“I think there was an issue with getting the agility testing put together,” he said.

Councilman Harley Noland, D-at large, said a review of the application and internal hiring policy at the police department might be in order.

“I’d like to take a look at who can apply and how we are able to promote people within the department,” he said.

Councilman Roger Kalter, D-1st Ward, expressed concern that something needs to be done to ensure that city is not losing their veteran officers to other opportunities.

“The sheriff’s office is gaining a wonderful officer and it will be very difficult for the Marietta Police Department to replace him. You can’t just replicate that. We’ve got other people that we need to be real concerned about not losing,” said Kalter.

Kalter would like to see the department and all other departments in the city formulate a one-page, five-year plan that would hopefully address retention, among other things, he said.

Still vacant position within the city over the past several years have not been uncommon due to funding issues, said Noland.

That situation is now improving somewhat thanks to an increase in city bed taxes, he said.

Aside from the position Hawkins’ exit will open, the remaining three are due to a recent retirement, a recent resignation and a new position that council approved thanks to that additional revenue, said McKitrick.

Advertisements for the upcoming civil service examination will be posted as soon as the test date is decided, said Starner.

“We want to have every eligible potential candidate to have an opportunity who wishes to. An open, level playing field,” he said.

Until that happens, the Marietta Police Department will have to continue making do, which Thomas said they have being doing superbly.

“The officers that are there are doing a great job, really working hard,” he said.