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Chief: Money too tight for holiday force

LAWRENCEVILLE -- With money running tight at the end of the year, Gwinnett's police chief said overtime money isn't available to engulf the county malls with officers this holiday season.

The holiday task force, which has been used to further protect shoppers and business owners during the holiday rush for decades, will still be out, Chief Charles Walters said.

But instead of using overtime to pay officers after they complete their normal duties, Walters said he is planning to pull people out of specialized units such as traffic enforcement to increase the presence at stores.

Earlier this year, the department's overtime budget was cut along with many other measures to balance the county budget after a proposed tax increase failed.

While the department typically has plenty of extra cash at the end of the year to "flood the malls" with officers, Walters said officials are facing their tightest year.

"We still have enough to get through," he said of overtime, but said there is little room for the usual surge.

"We'll still have an increased presence," he said. "We're going to have to shuffle our resources around."

Because of the crowds, traffic accidents and thefts are common, and Walters said officers would be called to the malls often to handle those situations even without the increase.

"It just makes sense to put people there," he said.