[Note: the following story focuses on the Graham police request for additional officers. See for an overview of police, fire department, recreation, and other stated needs here: https://alamancenews.com/graham-10-more-policemen-8-more-firefighters-2-more-fire-stations-are-chiefs-top-priorities/]
In Graham’s budget meeting in early March, the main focus of new personnel was on the police department, where the new police chief, Kristy Cole, is asking for 10 new patrol officers, at an annual cost of about $1.2 million. (That number does not include potential equipment, including cars for each officer.)
Police chief Cole says her 58-member department (which includes civilian positions, as well) is woefully understaffed – 60 percent under in the patrol division, which has 20 officers, according to the department’s analysis. She would add all 10 new officers in this division, a 50 percent increase in staffing for that part of her department.
In an unusual step, Cole did not actually present her budget request to the council members, but instead delegated it – first to recently-named assistant chief Rodney King, who subsequently delegated it to sergeant Crystal O’Neal, who outlined the workload assessment of the department.
O’Neal is also an adjunct professor at Elon University in human services studies within the criminal justice services department.
In all other cases in Graham, both this year and historically, the department heads themselves outlined their department’s needs.
In a recent interview with The Alamance News, the new chief defended her use of subordinates to make the budget presentation to the city council.
In a subsequent interview with The Alamance News, Cole defended her delegation of the presentation. She said the “team atmosphere” at the department is enhanced by what she termed “fostering employee growth.” She expressed confidence in the ability of O’Neal who handled most of the presentation, pointing out that she is an adjunct Elon University professor, in addition to working in the police department.
According to the police budget presentation, Graham’s police department needs about 2½ times more patrol officers than they have – 53, according to the department’s tabulations, rather than 20. O’Neal emphasized that the patrol division has not been increased since 1999.
Based on the 26 percent growth in population since 1999, O’Neal acknowledged that the department would need six new officers, but she said other factors add to the need.
Among factors was the sizeable increase in protests and demonstrations in downtown Graham during 2020. O’Neal said there had been 40 such demonstrations or protests, compared to 12 the previous year. The hours spent for Graham officers to respond to those demonstrations tallied to $64,665, she estimated.
She also said that Burlington’s municipal police had responded to assist Graham on three occasions, estimating that its costs amounted to $8,280.
O’Neal acknowledged in her tabulations that the 11 officers in criminal investigations within the department were not included in the workload assessment – since, she said, they do not typically respond to service calls.
O’Neal emphasized that Graham police’s patrol division had responded to 22,402 calls for service during 2020, compared to what she said was a national average call volume of 9,011 for cities Graham’s size – thus almost 2½ times the typical call volume.
O’Neal claimed that the 20 Graham patrol officers are handling the call volume and taking care of cases at a rate that would typically require 41-43 officers.
Thus, she told the council members, the current patrol officers are being asked to handle more than twice the workload “not just every now and then, not just when there’s a special event or a critical incident, but every single day.”
At the same time, O’Neal acknowledged that it “is not feasible” to make the increases in staffing to catch up to levels she says are needed in one budget cycle.
“We need to start,” she said by adding 10 new patrol officers.
Chief Cole elaborated that she is recommending a “staggered deployment” by adding five more officers in July (the beginning of the fiscal year) and another five in January (at the mid-point of the fiscal year).