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Clarkston police officers express staffing, pay and safety concerns at city council meeting

"We don't have backup. I've been stranded for several minutes at a time by myself fighting for my life," a Clarkston police officer said to the city council Tuesday.

CLARKSTON, Ga. — Another metro Atlanta law enforcement agency said it's badly understaffed. There are worries staffing could affect response times and your safety.

The police department made its case for better salaries at a city council meeting Tuesday evening in DeKalb County, but the board didn't approve money to attract new officers. 

A Clarkston councilman tried to get an item on the agency to increase police salaries by $9,000 a year. Some other council members voted not to talk about it at Tuesday's meeting but didn't say why. 

City of Clarkston Police Officer Devin Patterson addressed the city council on how understaffing affects him and fellow officers.

"It's about us wanting to be safe. We barely have enough officers to take care of what we need now," Patterson said to the council.

Patterson said being short-staffed leads to lots of overtime, fears for his safety, and concerns for the safety of other officers. 

“Things often happen due to our understaffing, and it often becomes an unsafe situation," Patterson said. “Imagine if we get a big call, maybe a shooting, and active shooter, and one person is showing up because we’re understaffed, 'What’s that going to turn into? How many people are going to die before something gets done?'”

The police department should have 21 officers but only has 15.

“We’re concerned it could decrease dramatically in the next month or so," Clarkston Councilman Jamie Carroll said. 

Carroll presented an amendment to increase starting police salaries from $46,000 to $55,000 a year. Council voted not to hear it at this meeting. 

“I just think public safety is the fundamental responsibility of government and that we have to have police and we have public safety, so I think the number one thing is to take care of public safety," Carroll said. "If we have to increase police salaries to do that, then that's what we need to do.” 

Clarkston Police Chief Christine Hudson believes a better salary is needed to be competitive with surrounding police jurisdictions.

“It’s very important because we are in the north metro. Most of the agencies we compete with are starting salaries higher than $50,000," Hudson said. “It’s straining on my officers, and it puts them in danger.”

Almost half a dozen Clarkston Police officers asked the city council to increase salaries so they can be safe while serving the community.

"We don't have backup. I've been stranded for several minutes at a time by myself fighting for my life," an officer said to the council.

“We’re all out here because we love the community. We wouldn’t be sacrificing our lives and putting ourselves at risk if we didn’t," Patterson added.

Carroll said he isn't fazed by not getting the police salary increases on Tuesday's meeting agenda and will try again at the next city council meeting on the last Tuesday in June.

It's not just Clarkston facing an uphill battle when it comes to staffing. Several metro Atlanta law enforcement agencies are dealing with the same problem. Clayton County Police and Clayton County's six municipal police departments are collectively more than 100 officers understaffed.

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