Despite the fact that the Guyton Police Department work product has declined substantially over the last year, Chief James Breletic wants more money for the next budget year.
The proposed FY 2024 budget asks city officials to award the police department a whopping $722,000, an increase of more than $60,000 from FY 2023.
Since the arrival of Chief James Breletic, the police department budget has increased $484,148 – or 203.55%. The budget previously hovered at $237,852 per year, but as the new administration has ballooned the city General Fund spending from $1.1 million annually to a projected $1.89 million annually, the police department budget hit $631,700 in FY 2023.
And over the last several years, the amount the city has collected in property taxes has only increased. In 2022, the city collected 11.87% more in property taxes than the year prior and subsequently spent more money.
Among the increases, Breletic has proposed spending more on, among other things, salaries, maintenance, postage, training and travel, weapons, ammunition, and vehicle maintenance.
Breletic also requested a 136% increase in uniform spending, despite having half the number of officers employed at the same time in 2022.
Based on the 2021 Census population of Guyton, the per-citizen spending has surged from $93.02 per person to $282.36 per person.
Is the City Getting What It’s Paying For?
The request for additional funding in the police department comes at a time when police department activity has declined substantially.
Data obtained from the Effingham County 911 center, which compiles monthly calls for service reports based on information reported directly from Guyton PD, shows that:
- people are calling 911 less often to ask for Guyton Police Department services
- the Guyton Police Department is responding to fewer calls
- Calls for service have declined 40% from the same time last year
- In June 2022, GPD reported 821 calls for service. In April 2023, that number was down to 200.
- the Guyton Police Department is conducting fewer proactive policing activities, such as traffic stops, direct patrol, and premise checks of businesses
- direct patrol practices have declined nearly 100%.
- In the month of April 2023, only 1 ‘direct patrol’ effort was reported
You can view all Calls for Service reports obtained under the Georgia Open Records Act dating back to February 2022 here.
Guyton PD’s Reputation on Response Time
Guyton PD has been less than reliable when it comes to answering calls from distressed citizens. Though Chief James Breletic asserted for more than a year that the police department was operating a 24/7 agency, in June 2022 a corrections officer was gunned down in his driveway and a Guyton officer was nowhere to be found. Breletic arrived on scene twenty minutes after the 911 call and 14 minutes after he was dispatched to the scene, donning a white shirt and white pants.
Similarly, in December 2022, a home invasion occurred at the home of an elderly woman and she was discovered deceased. No Guyton PD was on call at the time and it took 37 minutes for a Guyton officer to arrive on scene. Five Effingham County Sheriff’s deputies, two Effingham Fire & Rescue trucks, and one EMS unit beat Guyton Police Officers to the scene, with the first ECSO deputy arriving in under five minutes.
Additionally, in late 2022 and early 2023, Chief Breletic left his agency for three weeks.
Those incidents only compounded the public’s distrust of Guyton PD, which has been on a steady decline for over a year for a host of reasons. City officials, both appointed and elected, have blamed the public and the media for the negative publicity surrounding the police department.
Falsifying Stories to Improve Public Perception?
On April 20, 2023, a post about an incident at Guyton Elementary School appeared on the Facebook page Wake Up City of Guyton. The page is run by Mike Gerwig, who serves on city committees thanks to the appointment by Mayor Russ Deen. Since his appointment, Gerwig has become a vocal critic of anyone who speaks out against the police department.
The post from April 19 details a suspicious person incident call received by the police department, in which the school resource officer responded ‘within a minute.’
After obtaining reports from the Effingham County 911 center, it appears no such call was made about a ‘suspicious person,’ despite the fact that other suspicious person events were recorded in the service call log during the month of April.
TGV News reached out to Gerwig about the incident and to obtain more information, but received only an acknowledgement.