COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — The Columbus Police Department has a severe officer shortage. And that comes on the heels of a year with 70 homicides — 63 of which were murders. 34 have been solved.

One prominent Columbus criminal defense attorney has serious questions about the department.

As News 3 took attorney Stacey Jackson’s concerns to Police Chief Freddie Blackmon we came away with a better understanding of the Columbus Police Department’s staffing issues.

There are currently 444 budgeted Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council certified positions in the Columbus Police Department.

Blackmon tells News 3 there are between 120 and 130 open positions. That leaves between 310 and 320 officers on the streets.

Since 2016, the Columbus Police Department has hired 300 new officers. During that same time period, 400 have either retired or resigned.

A recent murder charge in which Jackson is defending a 17-year-old girl caused the attorney to question the department and its practices.

Elysia Cooley was charged and arrested. In the court hearing a detective said Cooley was believed to be the shooter.

Jackson spent eight years as a Muscogee County Assistant District Attorney before going into private practice in 2008. Since that time, he has become one of the area’s most successful criminal defense attorneys.

“That’s why I say I can’t understand in good conscience a sergeant of the police department would issue a warrant on a belief when you have zero witnesses,” Jackson said. “Maybe that is why they are 150 officers short because of people like that working in the department and why we have 70-plus murders and all of these active investigations going on. And people leaving the police department at an alarming rate. Because you don’t make arrests based on beliefs. You make arrests based on evidence. And that’s the problem I have with this case.”

Blackmon’s response:

“We have officers that are able to provide services as we always have been able to do so,” the chief said. “We have officers that are assigned to answer calls through 911 and to cover our beats. We have officers thart are assigned to cover our cases and we will continue to do that.”