Last month, a Forsyth police officer distributed a letter titled “Concerns About Our Police Department,” to the board of aldermen. The letter was also presented to members of the public and media attending the July Forsyth Aldermen meeting. A new addition to the Forsyth Police Department policy and procedures manual, approved by aldermen on Aug. 19, looks to keep identical situations from happening again.
In his distributed letter, which was addressed to the board of aldermen, Forsyth Officer Dusty Goforth addressed his concerns with the police department’s turnover of 15 officers in the last three years and how that trend will continue if certain issues are not addressed.
“The citizens of Forsyth deserve to have a proactive police department that is willing to go out every day and make sure that we are doing our best to take the drugs off the streets and give them peace of mind when they are sleeping,” Goforth said in his letter.
While not all of the 15 officers who have left in the last three years were due to pay disparities, Forsyth Police Chief Roger Ellis said in a July interview that poor pay conditions are the reason that many of the officers have left Forsyth for other departments.
New officers joining the Forsyth Police Department receive a starting pay of $12 an hour.
Once an officer completes his or her field training, they receive a dollar an hour raise, which can typically be completed in 12 weeks.
In his letter, Goforth said that he has received offers to go “somewhere else for more money and cheaper insurance,” however he has chosen to stay in Forsyth to continue to make a positive difference in the community he lives in.
“Unfortunately we are not (competitive) in the current rate of pay for a city of our size and revenue base,” said Goforth in his letter. “I hope that the board understands that this letter is not misconstrued as an attack on the city or the council members. It is to address major concerns that we face every day.
“I hope that you will look into doing what you can about this pay issue so that for the first time in many years, the citizens of Forsyth can be proud of their police department.”
In response to the distribution of Goforth’s letter, Forsyth Ward I Alderman and Forsyth Police Department Alderman Liaison Jack Baker said he recommended to Ellis that he create a policy on the matter for the department’s manual.
“Recently a letter was distributed in a city meeting concerning an officer’s disgruntled belief on pay associated with the department and the city,” Ellis said, reading from the proposed policy addition. “The purpose at a city council meeting is to allow the mayor and the councilmen to discuss issues on the agenda and accept public comments on these issues. It is not an opportunity for individual employees to distribute information on personal grievances.”
The addition to the department’s policy states that no employee will submit a letter of his or her disgruntlement to anyone at a city council meeting and that any letter of disgruntlement or verbal disclosure should first be delivered to the chief of police for review. If the problem cannot be corrected by the chief, the situation will be passed on to the department’s alderman liaison who will, with the aldermen, work to adjust/correct the concerns of the officer.
Should a disgruntled officer’s problem be solved by the aldermen, the entire incident will remain confidential from the public or any other people outside the department. Any disgruntled officer who does not follow these steps, will submit to disciplinary action at the discretion of the chief.
Following the reading of the proposed policy addition, Mayor Eddie Coleman shared his opinion that the policy is not necessary.
“When I got a job, when I had a problem, who did I go to? I went to the boss. Couldn’t figure it out? Then there’s only one thing for me to do. Quit and go somewhere else. I never did that. Got it figured out,” said Coleman. “You got to give and take in this world. I don’t believe we need it written down on a piece of paper to where the whole world knows we got a problem.
“Chief, we don’t need that in policy.”
Ellis said he disagreed and explained that when the letter was distributed, there wasn’t a thing he could do about it because there was nothing to cover such a situation. When asked if he knew about the letter ahead of the meeting, Ellis said he did, but thought it was only going to be presented to the aldermen.
“I didn’t know it was going to be distributed. That is what this (policy addition) is for, is to make sure that doesn’t happen again. I consider it was an attack, ambush on the aldermen. I don’t believe in that,” said Ellis. “It should have been given to the aldermen. Have them have time to correct it if they wanted to correct it.”
Coleman added that he didn’t understand why Goforth had not run the letter up the proper chain of command.
“I can’t understand why or how a person can come of age that it takes to become a police officer and them never getting instructed about chain of command. I don’t understand that,” said Coleman. “I can’t understand why anybody would go out and do something like that, that they didn’t know was against the rules. Of course, at that time there wasn’t any rules against it. But by the same token that doesn’t make good common sense. What are you going to do? You going to aggravate one person or are you going to aggravate 100? And that’s what they’ve done.”
Before voting on the proposed policy addition, Baker said his belief that handing out something with a person’s personal grievances at a city council meeting is not acceptable.
“I think this policy needs to be put in place, mayor,” said Baker. “I’m not disagreeing with you. But we’ve got to make everybody aware that this is not acceptable.”
When the conversation on the proposed policy addition began at Monday’s meeting, Forsyth Ward II Alderman Greg Dougherty questioned whether or not it was appropriate to include an incident into the policy.
“Is that normal? Is that appropriate to put an incident,” said Dougherty? “It just doesn’t seem very appropriate to me.”
The policy addition was passed with a three-to-one vote. Dougherty voted no for the addition, citing he didn’t like the way it had been written.