July 17, 2007
Albany -- Dougherty County District Attorney Ken Hodges says Albany law enforcement needs to immediately take action to rebuild a Special Weapons and Tactics or SWAT team, because the community is not safe without one.
The Albany Police Department will hold tryouts for it's officers volunteering to join the SWAT team. But one former member of the Albany Dougherty SWAT team says it could take at least one year to train Police Officers to handle the dangerous duty.
With only about a fraction of SWAT team members remaining, the D.A. says Albany isn't safe.
"If we had a Columbine, if we had a Virginia Tech incident, the closest help would be a two hour response time at a minimum, and it could be longer than that. That's unacceptable," said Dougherty D.A. Ken Hodges.
Hodges is calling for immediate changes in the SWAT leadership. "I believe SWAT needs to be transferred to the Albany Dougherty Drug Unit, which is already a consolidated unit, made up of the city, county, and Sheriff's Department. The management of the SWAT team needs to be put under the Policy and Review Board," Hodges said.
Seven SWAT team members have resigned since June 15th. Six of them just last week. Thirteen year Albany Police veteran Sgt. Michael Persley is one of them. After five years on the SWAT team, he resigned to go to work for the National Guard.
Persley says many of his fellow SWAT team members felt they were left out of communication by Albany Police. "If you don't feel respected in your organization, how much longer are you going to stay in that organization?"
Persley said he is disappointed that his once proud unit is now depleted. And he says it will take a long time to fully train officers for the dangerous duty. "My best guess, It would probably take a year, one year, maybe a year and a half, or two, to get the team straight."
Hodges says Dougherty County can't wait that long, and is calling for immediate changes. "We need to also enter into agreement with other surrounding agencies, like Lee County, and others who want to join, to build up the numbers to a number that is safe. Safe for the community and safe for the officers."
Hodges also worries that the state gave Albany and Dougherty County a grant for $200,000 to maintain a trained 15 member SWAT force for use in a 23 county area, and that they are not able to provide that service now.
Michael Persley said he believes the remaining officers on the SWAT team can handle most emergencies for the time being, until more officers can be trained.