ORU grant helps equip Columbia Police vehicles
When Columbia Police Chief Philip Killingsworth needed to revamp his department’s fleet in 2020, he knew he needed trucks instead of the traditional sedans or SUVs.
Serving a river community means hauling boats in water rescue situations. Since some roads that access the Chattahoochee are unpaved and prone to flooding, officers need vehicles that can weather the elements.
The trucks, though, had a few disadvantages until a $3,500 grant from Wiregrass Electric Cooperative (WEC)’s Operation Round Up (ORU) Charitable Foundation changed that recently. With the aid of new step rails and toolboxes, Columbia’s police officers can go about their duties more safely.
“We cannot thank first responders like police officers enough for their willingness to serve their communities in highly stressful — and sometimes dangerous — situations,” says WEC Chief Operating Officer Brad Kimbro. “Providing a grant like this to help them secure something as simple as a truck toolbox is just another way to show our appreciation. Our Operation Round Up foundation is honored to meet this need.”
Addressing Unique Challenges
Despite serving a population of about 700 in Columbia proper, the town’s four police officers and five auxiliary officers register more than 3,000 calls or contacts in a given year. While most are traffic stops for speeding, some challenging situations arise — especially along the Chattahoochee River and its tributaries.
“In the last year and a half, we did three rescue missions on the river — assisting the Early County, Georgia, Department of Natural Resources,” Killingsworth says.
The Chattahoochee is technically a Georgia waterway, but no sizable Peach State towns border the river locally. Since many homes and camps in Columbia occupy a spot along the river, people are quick to call the Columbia Police Department when someone encounters trouble on the water.
“We’ve had the fastest response to get boats on the river to look for people,” Killingsworth says. “We have the easiest boat ramp to use. Our boat ramp never floods up. It never gets sanded in. It’s in a little slough. You can pull up and put a boat in the river in no time.”
While trucks are a blessing for water rescue missions, they do have disadvantages. Since the back seat of police vehicles must always be prepared for transporting detainees, there is only a little space in the front for dry storage of other needed items like safety gear and documents.
That is why the department’s trucks are now outfitted with a toolbox in the bed.
One other challenge officers encountered shortly after they received the trucks was transporting those they had arrested. Placing handcuffed individuals inside a tall truck proved challenging, leading the department to purchase step rails for each vehicle.
Small Change Makes a Big Difference
While it may seem like a minor thing on the surface, Killingsworth said the ORU grant has been a huge blessing for his department and the community.
“The town of Columbia is small. We don’t have the revenue base the big cities have,” he says. “For us, it was a blessing to submit a grant application to pay for stuff the town didn’t have to pay for. The trucks cost roughly $98,000 outfitted, so to save $3,500, it helps out a lot.” Operation Round Up operates on a similar premise, Kimbro says.
About 85% of WEC’s members volunteer to round their monthly bills to the next highest dollar. While the most anyone member will contribute in a year is $12, the foundation collects more than $120,000 annually — which is then disbursed in grants big and small to worthy causes.
“That small change each month makes a big difference,” Kimbro says. “In addition to first responder agencies, we’ve been able to help those who lost homes in fires. We’ve assisted area hospitals, several schools, and many high school extracurricular programs. We are thankful that so many of our members participate in the program. Together we are making the Wiregrass a better place.”
Killingsworth touts the program’s benefits to his fellow officers in other areas of the Wiregrass.
“Operation Round Up is great for any agency,” he says. “I’m glad they’re doing this program.”
First Responder Agencies Receive ORU Grants
First responder agencies ensure Wiregrass residents can live in quiet communities where they can receive any emergency medical attention they need promptly. That is why Wiregrass Electric Cooperative has awarded several large grants to area agencies through its Operation Round Up Charitable Foundation since 2015.
- Columbia Police Department
- Columbia Ambulance Rescue Emergency Squad
- City of Slocomb Fire/Rescue
- Cottonwood Ambulance and Rescue, Inc.
- Rehobeth Volunteer Fire Department
- Wicksburg Volunteer Fire/Rescue