At a work session last week, the Auburn City Council heard a presentation from Public Safety administration that recommended increasing police presence down South College Street by adding additional officers to the force and dividing one of the city's larger beats.
Public Safety Director Bill James and Police Chief Paul Register both recommended adding additional officers, but not going forward yet with a police substation on South College Street, a proposal that Ward 8 Councilman Tommy Dawson asked the city to entertain.
The council ended up giving city staff an informal nod to begin the process of hiring 12 new police officers, which would allow the Auburn Police Division to staff each of the city's 14 beats, or assignment patrol areas, with at least one officer while also creating a sub-beat down South College Street in Beat 7, the largest beat geographically. On some shifts, officers often must cover multiple beats, which decreases police presence in those areas.
"It is very large geographically," said Register. "We often have to have a car that is responsible for maybe two sometimes even three beats because there's not enough people to cover all beats."
Data provided in a memo shows an increase of 4,000 calls in Beat 7 from 2013-2018, although there was a decrease in total crimes reported and reports taken. Beats 2 and 3, which encompass the Opelika Road and Glenn-Dean areas, received the most service calls.
"Even though our call volume has not drastically increased in that area, the types of situations that we've had the past few years are typically — if we have something down there, it's often major," Register said.
A number of high-profile crimes have occurred in Beat 7 down South College Street over the past decade, including the shooting deaths of former Auburn players Ed Christian and Ladarious Phillips in 2012, former Auburn football freshman Jakell Mitchell in 2014, and the recent abduction and subsequent death of Aniah Blanchard in late October.
The cost of hiring each new police officer, which would include training, equipment, salary and a vehicle, would be about $120,000.
Both James and Register indicated that adding officers would be more beneficial in the near term than creating a substation, which would need to be staffed with at least seven people, including a sergeant, lieutenant, duty officers and an administrative assistant, as well as be open and accessible 24/7.
A brick-and-mortar building for the substation would cost upwards of $3.5 million to build, said James, who added that the officers staffed at the substation would still be out on patrol.
"It would not necessarily increase response time because they'd already be out in the field; it's going to be more psychological — we've got a substation here, don't be messing around down here," said Councilman Brett Smith.
There is value in having a structure on South College, said James, adding that "we are just thinking you get more bang for the buck if you go ahead and hire more people and put that visibility down there and then work toward, at some point, having that brick-and-mortar building."