SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Police Department is proving to be quite adept at shouldering a growing load.
New businesses and houses that need to be protected are popping up all across the city limits.
“I don’t think there are any vacant buildings any more on Laurel Street,” Sgt. James Woodcock said. “If there is, it’s being renovated.”
Springfield has a population of about 4,200, up from 2,809 in 2010. Even Springfield’s city limits have expanded considerably.
“We took in Love’s (Travel Stop),” Woodcock said.
Set to open soon, Love’s is located at 2600 Ga. Hwy 21 at an intersection with Ebenezer Road.
“Just be taking that in, you have stretched the city another two miles (southward).”
The expansion to Love’s isn’t contiguous, however. The truck stop rests in an island surrounded by unincorporated Effingham County.
“I anticipate PD growing every year to be honest with you,” Woodcock said. “It just can’t help it. I fully expect annexation to start at Love’s and move back this way.
“You know we start at (the Clarence Morgan Complex) but we lost everything after that as you are moving southbound.”
Dasher Pointe subdivision added 75 houses to cover and Ebenezer Bluff added more than 100. Both are on Ga. Hwy 21.
“I’m sure that and Love’s will add to the call volume,” Woodcock said.
Woodcock is joined by 10 other people in the department. They include Chief Paul Wynn, Det. Amelia Smith, Officer Thomas Ortiz, Cpl. Clinton Easton, APO Mike Adams, Cpl. Nicholas Cavanah, Officer Nicholas Taylor, Officer Brittany Brown, Officer Ryan Loyd and Clerk Darlene Seagroves. Recently, Adams received a promotion and Easton earned field training officer certification.
“We hired two new people (Taylor and Brown) this year. We had two leave us,” Woodcock said.
Until the recent departures, the Springfield Police Department went two years without any turnover. Woodcock credits the staffing stability to the leadership of Wynn, who has been with the department for nearly 29 years, including 17 as chief.
“The department has come a long way,” Woodcock said. “You have to figure he was here before the (Ga. Hwy 21 Bypass was constructed in 1997). Man, that was a long time ago.”
The city’s growth means the department will likely need more officers soon.
“The city manager, Mr. Matt Morris, knows that,” Woodcock said. “He supports us one hundred percent. We got another position approved this year.
“We haven’t filled it but it is there to be filled.”
Finding certified officers is getting harder by the day. There is a national shortage of candidates due in part to the pay levels and climate of law enforcement that make recruiting difficult.
“One of the things that we did to speed up getting officers here is we fully sponsored (Taylor and Brown) through the (Peace Officer Academy),” Woodcock said. “Taylor was already in the academy when he came to us and applied so we didn’t fully sponsor him but we did Brown. I think us supporting people through the academy is the best way for us.”
Woodcock says the department welcomes inquiries about job opportunities and police academy (financial) assistance.
“If you put yourself through the academy, it will cost you three or four thousand dollars,” Woodcock said. “If we sponsor you, we pay that and you don’t have to pay for your own equipment. It saves you some money right off the bat and you get paid hourly.”
The biggest problem for the department last year was finding new cars.
“We ordered cars in January and got one somewhere around September or October,” Woodcock said. “The next car came in February of this year. It took thirteen months for the second car and we ordered them on the same day.”
The department is switching from Dodge Chargers to Ford Interceptors. An Interceptor is an SUV.
“Luckily, the (Springfield City Council) has blessed us,” Woodcock said. “We’ve been ordering cars as we should but that hurt us and we’ve got one now that we are trying to get.
“I hope it will go through because if we get blessed and hire somebody we will have a car ready to go for them. Hopefully, it won’t take thirteen months to get it.”