Rock Hill police turn to consultant for guidance

Hoping to create a force versatile enough to meet the demands of a growing population, Rock Hill police will bring in a consultant to study how the department should be structured.

Chief John Gregory got unanimous approval Monday for $78,750 to hire Carroll Buracker & Associates, a Virginia-based firm that will interview local officials and pore over crime numbers to project staffing needs as Rock Hill grows.

Gregory has said his 66-member patrol unit is stretched thin and needs more manpower to keep pace with Rock Hill's expanding city limits. For two years, the chief has wanted six additional officers included in the budget.

But Gregory now believes a consultant will be able to paint a clearer picture of needs so that money can be targeted at the most pressing priorities. Hiring six officers would cost about $600,000, including squad cars and equipment.

"We've accomplished a lot, but it comes to a point where it goes beyond our expertise," Gregory told the City Council on Monday night. "I think we need a road map. To come before you every year and say we need six, 12 officers is like a shock. If we know ahead of time what we should look like, I think we can plan a lot better."

The study should be finished in four months.

"It's taking the long view," said Mayor Doug Echols. "It allows us to forecast what the needs are going to be ... versus just adding people on a year-to-year basis. It comes with a rationale."

Rock Hill leaders also gave approval Monday to a $163.9 million annual budget that avoids a tax increase. Councilman Kevin Sutton, the conservative stalwart who said earlier that he would vote against the spending plan, did not attend because he was sick.

Police departments across the nation are turning to consultants more often to figure out the best ways to fight crime, said Geoff Alpert, a criminal justice professor at the University of South Carolina law school.

"What you don't want to do is pay $76,000 to someone who comes in and tells you what you already know," he said. "You want someone who's done it before, who has a track record. They're worth the money if they're done right."

Fifteen firms applied, but Gregory said Buracker came with the best recommendations from police chiefs he talked to in other cities.

Alpert said an outside expert can bring fresh ideas -- ideally without the biases and preconceived notions of police supervisors who have been entrenched for years.

"Outsiders are going to know what other departments are doing," he said. "They've figured out how to police smarter, more comprehensively."