January 12, 2012 12:06:00 PM
WEST POINT -- The West Point Police Department is putting more officers in the streets after burglaries and two deaths.
Tuesday, the West Point Board of Selectmen hired three new police officers.
The new officers bring the department's total to 28 sworn officers, 20 of whom will be assigned to patrol.
West Point Police Chief Tim Brinkley said the officers are in response to two killings since December, one of which -- the slaying of Columbus resident LeAndre Johnson -- remains unsolved. A rash of Christmastime burglaries also prompted the decision.
"The mayor and the board have been very supportive of our efforts, even before this, to make the force more visible in the community," Brinkley said. "We know police presence is a big deterrent to crime. We're trying to get more officers on the street.
"All leave has been canceled until further notice," he added.
The officers will begin work Jan. 16.
Two of them, Kevin Smiley and Elbert Smith, are certified. Smiley has two years of law enforcement experience and is working with the Stillman College Police Department in Tuscaloosa, Ala. He also worked for the Greensboro, Ala. Police Department.
Smith has eight years of experience and is not an officer now. He's been running his own computer business, Assistant Chief Avery Cook said.
The third officer, Nick Coe, will complete his criminal justice degree at Mississippi State University in May. He's been a member of West Point's auxiliary police force.
"If you know law enforcement, you know your numbers fluctuate," Cook said. "You have officers leaving all the time for different reasons, but for us our strength is usually around 25 to 28 people."
Cook said the department's goal is 32 officers.
West Point police also will increase the reserve and auxiliary patrol, Brinkley said.
The department has other plans to engage community members and encourage cooperation with police investigations. Brinkley said a police scouting/explorer program was recently started, and he's encouraging all neighborhoods to establish community watch programs.
A policeman's ball is scheduled for March, and Brinkley said the event will be more about the community than the police force.
"We're hoping people come out and support it," he said. "We've got to strengthen our relationship with the community. We're finding out the community, too often, residents don't report incidents to the police department like they should. Residents may have seen something occur that could have given us good clues. We don't want people to think any information is too menial to bother us with."
1. Coach Marsh will be remembered COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY