About 6:30 p.m. Friday, uniformed deputies emerged from their cars and congregated at an empty lot on the corner of Broad and Sixth streets.
Pistols strapped to their sides and badges on their chests, they looked every bit the part of full-time deputies, but they’re volunteers who do the work for free.
Six of the 10 Richmond County Sheriff’s Office reserve deputies made their First Friday debuts after being sworn in May 30. Sheriff Richard Roundtree, who stood nearby outfitted with a neon yellow sheriff’s office shirt, said the benefits were immediately apparent.
“That’s six additional resources that I don’t have to employ from somewhere else,” Roundtree said. “These are six guys that have volunteered their time to make this city safe for six to seven hours with no financial compensation.”
A little more than an hour after they arrived, the reserve deputies broke from their huddle into different directions on Broad Street. As theywalked, some exchanged pleasantries with First Friday patrons.
Lt. Randy Prickett said the reserve deputies were paired with full-time officers so they could learn by example.
“We’ve still got to train them,” Prickett said. “They still have to get used to the way we do things.”
Reserve Deputy Tripp Haywood, who worked as a full-time deputy for more than 15 years while running an appraisal business on the side, said he’s had prior experience working First Friday. Managing two full-time jobs burned Haywood out.
The reserve deputy program has allowed him to return to what he loves.
“It’s giving me the satisfaction of working with the guys, which I really missed doing when I wasn’t here,” Haywood said. “I’m able to keep up my certification. I’m able to stay as an active deputy in case things were to change in my future.”
Later, Haywood walked between rows of classic cars parked at the Augusta Common, smiling and chatting with the owners and anyone else within earshot.
Barry Davis, who also served as a Richmond County sheriff’s deputy for more than 15 years, currently works as a mortgage banker for Georgia Bank and Trust. He said he’s missed donning his uniform.
“I love being a police officer,” he said. “I love what it means to the community. Just serving the people.”
Jean Taylor, of North Augusta, said the number of officers patrolling the downtown area made her and her husband feel more comfortable.
She said if Friday was any indicator of what Roundtree’s continuously patrolled downtown district would look like, it would be a good thing. The proposal calls for the presence of six to eight officers at all times in the heart of downtown Augusta.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Taylor said. “We would love to see Augusta blossom. It’s a good feeling to see all of these people out here.”
Roundtree said the addition of the reserve deputies patrolling the downtown area should, in fact, give Augustans a taste of what’s to come. That includes the high-visibility shirts the patrol would wear.
“We want to show them the personal touch that the patrol will have,” Roundtree said. “It’s not about locking everybody up on Broad Street. We’re out here to be seen, be visible and be helpful.”
Dustin Woods, of Augusta, said the proposal still has the potential to deter downtown patrons.
“It’s a plus for safety, but a minus because it’s killing downtown for the patrons,” he said. “They’re always trying to revamp downtown, but at the same time they’re scaring people from coming down here.”
Roundtree said critics of his proposal have yet to see his plan in its entirety. Packages detailing the full scope of the program are set to be distributed to downtown businesses next week, he said.
“People weigh in on a proposal that they haven’t seen yet and that’s frustrating,” he said. “We’re just trying to make downtown safe. We’re trying to enhance our level of service.”