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Copyright 2005 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

</IMG>The Atlanta Journal-Constitution September 30, 2005 Friday Home Edition

Bulk of tiny city's police force quits;
Town manager, chief at oddsRICHARD WHITT
Emerson --- Five empty patrol cars sat outside the police station in this tiny Bartow County city Thursday after the chief and half of his officers quit their jobs.

Chief Edward Bell quit the 13-officer department Wednesday rather than obey orders from the new city manager to fire half his force. Bell's assistant chief and five officers followed him out the door.

"I told them I would not take the liability on myself of getting an officer killed," Bell said Thursday.

City Manager Larry Clark said, in effect, good riddance.

"This is a small hiccup," said Clark, who's been on the job about two months. He blamed the resignations on "some disgruntled employees."

It's debatable whether this city about a mile north of the Cobb County line --- population 1,248 --- is such a hotbed of crime that the city is now endangered. But certainly the commotion has the hamlet buzzing.

"It's scaring a lot of people," said Neil Myers, who works at his uncle's truck repair shop a block from City Hall.

Without police protection, Myers said, his uncle is concerned that he may have to stay at his shop at night to prevent theft.

Dorothy Tidwell and her nephew Tony Dover, who live just across the highway from the repair shop, have no such concerns.

"The only thing that I know," Tidwell said, "is that Emerson has too many policemen."

Mayor Henry Jordan said the city is well-protected.

"I talked to the Bartow sheriff and the State Patrol, and they're going to help out," he said Thursday.

"I've got police on duty right now."

Dover, 25, who grew up in Emerson, said the reaction of most residents he talked to was "surprise, more than anything."

Suburban development from nearby Cobb hasn't quite reached Emerson.

The town has one blinking caution light and got a Dollar General store last year. Otherwise, commerce is thin.

Not much has changed since his childhood, Dover said. "There's no crime, really," he said. "It's a good place to bring up kids."

City police recorded no murders last year, and there was only one in Bartow County, according to state figures. In fact, the mayor couldn't remember the last murder in the town.

"Seems like there was one, but it's been a long, long time ago," Jordan said. "I'm 69 now and I've lived here since I was 5 and I just don't remember one."

Clark said the city's police force of six full-time and seven part-time officers --- one cop per 96 residents --- was too big for Emerson.

The national average of sworn law enforcement officers is one for each 435 residents, according to the latest figures available from the FBI.

In cities with populations of fewer than 10,000 people, the average ratio is one officer per 303 residents, according to the FBI's uniform crime report.

Pine Lake in DeKalb County, where city officials say about 900 people live, has one officer for every 180 residents.

The dispute between Bell and Clark has been simmering almost from the day Clark arrived.

Bell and Assistant Chief Mike Powell said Clark tried to micromanage the police department. Bell said Clark threatened to fire him the day after he took over as city manager.

"He threatened to fire me 17 other times and threatened to suspend me three times," said Bell. "It just went on and on."

Clark said he was city manager in Forsyth and in Grantville, in Coweta County, before coming to Emerson.

He said he differed with the chief many times but denied ever threatening to fire him.

"They made the mistake of trying to strong-arm a South Georgia boy who has been doing this for 20 years," Clark said.

Clark said he told Bell to reduce the number of officers, but said he asked him to seek only Powell's resignation. "The assistant chief had slandered me in the local newspapers, and I'm tired of it," Clark said.

Jordan, who is backing the city manager, said he was surprised and disappointed that the two men couldn't work things out.

"The chief just didn't want to cooperate with the city manager," the mayor said.

Jordan said the city was in "no big hurry" to hire a new chief.

He has appointed Lt. Kevin McBurnett acting chief.

McBurnett said five other officers are still on the job, but more are needed.

"This day and time, no officer wants to go on a call alone," he said. "I hope to have two more officers on very soon."

As a locksmith finished changing the deadbolt on the chief's office door Thursday, Melinda Lynch dropped by the police station by to pick up a job application.

"I want to be a police officer," she said.

"No," she added, she hadn't heard about any resignations.

Staff writer Don Plummer contributed to this article.
Staff Map locates Emerson in Bartow County. Inset map of area of detail in Metro Atlanta.
September 30, 2005
 
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