Recent hires were needed, sheriff says

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At a time when most city departments are adhering to a mandatory or voluntary freeze on hiring and salary increases, Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength defends the 48 new hires his department has made this year as necessary replacements for resigned, terminated or retiring staff.

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On Friday, July 29, 2011, courtroom security officers Henry Tucker (L) and Kevin Link (R) stand in the back of a main courtroom at the judicial center off James Brown Blvd. in Augusta, Georgia, demonstrating where they would stand if court were in session.   Sara Caldwell/Staff
Sara Caldwell/Staff
On Friday, July 29, 2011, courtroom security officers Henry Tucker (L) and Kevin Link (R) stand in the back of a main courtroom at the judicial center off James Brown Blvd. in Augusta, Georgia, demonstrating where they would stand if court were in session.

"Anybody hired with the sheriff's office is a replacement hire, not an additional employee," he said.

According to data provided by Augusta's human resources office, since early 2010 the department has lost 76 people, significantly more than the 48 it has added this year.

The losses include six investigators, eight records clerks, 19 jailers and 36 road patrol deputies. Twenty-one of them retired from careers with the sheriff's office.

To replace them, the office this year has hired 29 jailers, six records clerks and 13 road patrol deputies, according to the human resources data. Five other deputies were promoted to fill newly vacant positions, the sheriff said.

Turnover is extremely high at the jails, and recruiting people who can pass a background check and polygraph has become increasingly difficult, particularly as the city has implemented a second year of furlough pay reductions, sheriff's Col. Gary Powell said.

The recent hires don't include 20 new jailers budgeted to staff an expansion set to open later this year at Charles B. Webster Detention Center, Strength said.

If those jobs are staffed and all the sheriff's office vacancies are filled -- which Powell said was rare and unlikely -- only then would the department return to its ideal staffing level.

Strength said that based on his administration's experience, the ideal allotment to adequately police the county on a budget is 750 positions.

"We've been doing it for 35 years, and we know what we're doing," he said.

But 750 positions -- about the number of personnel the sheriff's office was allotted in 1998, 1999 and 2000 -- included 68 deputies whose salaries were paid for using generous federal Community-Oriented Policing Services grants of the late 1990s that have since dried up.

"The commission had to decide to fund them, and we lost them," Strength said.

Commissioner Jerry Brigham, who was in office when former Sheriff Charles B. Webster applied for the three-year COPS grants, recalled, "We told him up front that we wouldn't have the funds to keep paying them."

Since 1998's peak of 752 employees -- a number that excludes 911 communications personnel then under the sheriff's office and part-time school crossing guards -- the department's staff allotment dropped to 716 in 2001 and made gradual annual gains to 2011's budgeted allotment of 756 positions.

It has taken a decade for the sheriff's office to return to 2000 staffing levels, which relied on a nonrenewable funding source.

Most of the personnel growth has taken place in the form of bailiffs to staff 16 new court and hearing rooms in the new Augusta Judicial Center, and jailers needed for expansions at Webster Detention Center, not beat officers.

Though the Richmond County marshal handles door security at the downtown sheriff's office, the municipal building and the courthouse, the sheriff is responsible for security in the courtrooms.

Webster jailers and other staff have increased from 86 in 2000 to 118 allotted for 2011, while bailiffs who protect courtrooms grew from 31 in 2001 to 42 this year.

Over the same period, the number of investigators dropped by two and narcotics lost one. Uniformed deputies have dropped by 39 since 2000. The COPS grant ran out in 2001.

The sheriff's budget grew from $40.6 million in 2000, when $1.5 million in COPS grant funds made up 46 percent of the Augusta general fund/law enforcement budget, to $56.1 million in 2011, when it was close to 42 percent.

SHERIFF’S OFFICE JOBS

A look at the number of positions at the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office from 2000-11:

  2000’01’02’03’04’05’06’07’08’09’10’11
Administration522121212122222223242424
Records323232323234343436363636
Joint Law Enforcement Center140139139139138138136136136135135135
Charles B. Webster Detention Center8683838384979999989898118
Training788888888888
Uniform Division332307307307307308306306305300300300
Investigations696765656565656566676767
Narcotics232223232323232322222222
Domestic Violence3
Public Relations/Drug Abuse Resistance Education666666554444
Civil3132323232333333343442
Highway Enforcement of Aggressive Traffic– 3330
Total750716716716716733734734734728728756

Source: Richmond County Sheriff’s Office

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broad street narrow mind
348
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broad street narrow mind 08/01/11 - 01:23 am
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jailers have to pass a
Unpublished

jailers have to pass a polygraph? what do they ask? who administers it? who believes in it? from wikipedia- Polygraphy has little credibility among scientists. Despite claims of 90-95% validity by polygraph advocates, and 95-100% by businesses providing polygraph services, critics maintain that rather than a "test", the method amounts to an inherently unstandardizable interrogation technique whose accuracy cannot be established. A 1997 survey of 421 psychologists estimated the test's average accuracy at about 61%, a little better than chance.Critics also argue that even given high estimates of the polygraph's accuracy a significant number of subjects (e.g. 10% given a 90% accuracy) will appear to be lying, and would unfairly suffer the consequences of "failing" the polygraph. In the 1998 Supreme Court case, United States v. Scheffer, the majority stated that "There is simply no consensus that polygraph evidence is reliable" and "Unlike other expert witnesses who testify about factual matters outside the jurors' knowledge, such as the analysis of fingerprints, ballistics, or DNA found at a crime scene, a polygraph expert can supply the jury only with another opinion..." Also, in 2005 the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals stated that “polygraphy did not enjoy general acceptance from the scientific community”. Charles Honts, a psychology professor at Boise State University, states that polygraph interrogations give a high rate of false positives on innocent people.

bclicious
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bclicious 08/01/11 - 03:48 am
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I think that Sheriff Strength

I think that Sheriff Strength is being very modest. He probably needs double the amount of personnel that he hired; however, his budget has been cut down, and then there is the mass hiring freeze. It is truly a dark day to be working for the Augusta Richmond County Government in any capacity.

bclicious
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bclicious 08/01/11 - 03:54 am
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Also, I would like to point

Also, I would like to point out that it is the citizens who suffer will suffer when the government is not able to do its job.

Brad Owens
4715
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Brad Owens 08/01/11 - 04:10 am
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I support any increase in

I support any increase in deputies he needs. We need more on the streets, but get them out of the cruisers and back to 'flat foot' walking the beat in bad areas.

Have them four or five deep doing walking, bike, and mounted patrols.

The commission should never consider a stadium until the manning problems are solved in law enforcement.

NEEDS before WANTS!

Lori Davis
958
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Lori Davis 08/01/11 - 06:24 am
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Agree with Brad 100%. No

Agree with Brad 100%. No baseball stadium until career drug dealers and their houses are shut down in Harrisburg and the rest of Richmond County.

CKB
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CKB 08/01/11 - 07:33 am
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If there is a lack of

If there is a lack of deputies, especially in downtown Augusta, who do you think will be attending anything there? Safety should be a major concern here. Do you think most people consider going to Riverwalk at night? In the beginning, a friend and I walked on Riverwalk after 11:30 PM- shame we can't consider that now! I am very tired of having these projects ramed down out throats just so we can fatten people's pockets in Augusta. Augusta will never grow with things the way they are!

Asitisinaug
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Asitisinaug 08/01/11 - 07:46 am
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So the Sheriff's Office,

So the Sheriff's Office, already woefully understaffed has lost 76 employees since 2010 and has only replaced 48 of those positions. In addition, we as a community have lost (never been able to replace) 39 road deputies, 2 investigators and one narcotics officer. We do not meet CELEA standards for certification because we wouldn't have a chance with the current staffing which is deplorable - the commission should be ashamed they waste so much money on golf, studies, busses, downtown development, travel, seminars, memberships and still wish to build a stadium when we can't even afford our Public Safety needs?

The Sheriff can't hire or retain because this is one of the lowest paid Sheriff's Offices in the area and does not meet the standard salaries for other similar agencies within the south east region. The benefits compared to other agencies are a joke - basically non-existent. There is no additional pay for experience, training or college. Combine all of these standard negatives with the furlough days and decrease in pay they have taken the past two years while insurance costs have risen and we are luck he was able to re-fill even some of the current vacancies.

This commission MUST get it priorities in order and Public Safety is the primary function of any government entity. Our Sheriff needs proper funding because in addition to all of the above mentioned reduction in force his budget for training, supplies, etc. has also been cut right at a million dollars in the past few years.

The deputies of Richmond County handle a call volume that far exceeds other area departments, answer far more dangerous "high risk" calls and yet are paid less and have far less benefits. If we want excellent law enforcement, we can't be the worst place to work for in the area.

It is time to support local law enforcement fully.

chemchick
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chemchick 08/01/11 - 08:14 am
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Brad is hitting the nail on

Brad is hitting the nail on the head. We have deputies going to dangerous (or potentially dangerous) calls alone because there are not enough deputies on the road. My personal opinion is that there should be no less than 2 deputies per beat and evern more in high crime areas. Why are we even considering a baseball stadium when our deputies, that are already working for next to nothing, are put in even more danger due to understaffing? Please Sheriff...HIRE MORE!!!!

Asitisinaug
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Asitisinaug 08/01/11 - 08:25 am
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Countyman....Can't wait to

Countyman....Can't wait to hear your spin / opinion on this? This further shows your comments towards local law enforcement are all misleading and disengenious. Not only have we LOST over 40 positions that were de-funded, we have not even been able to maintian re-hiring for all of the deputies quitting Richmond County.

broad street narrow mind
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broad street narrow mind 08/01/11 - 09:51 am
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i remember the sheriff
Unpublished

i remember the sheriff offering a budget cut of a million dollars a few years ago. i remember the commission asking the sheriff to ask for more money and he wouldn't. if what asitsays is true about rcso pay, we should be ashamed. we don't pay for experience or education? that's stupid. we need to pay our cops. no one can live on lip service. we're all willing to pay for public safety (most of us include beat policing as our ideal). why doesn't the sheriff let it happen? what's the last good decision this sheriff made for us or his deputies?

Asitisinaug
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Asitisinaug 08/01/11 - 10:04 am
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Broad Street, the Sheriff has

Broad Street, the Sheriff has repeatdly stated to the commission he needs additional fundng. Without the funding the only option the Sheriff has is to sue the commission which is not in the best interest of the community as a whole either. This department is one of the few that does not offer salary increases for advanced classes, associate degrees or bachelor degrees nor does it offer any type of incentive funding to obtain these degrees. Right now the Sheriff can barely keep enough deputies on the streets and in order to fund initatives such as this his only option would be to cut some other area or cut personnel which simply can not be done.

Also, the Sheriff never offered a budget cut but was told that all departments had to cut and the most he would allow was around $1 million. He then seeked grants from the feds to help as much as possible (which he was also already doing) but such funding is very minimal nowdays. It us understandable that we must live within our means, keep budgets under control, etc. However, Richmond County Commission waste is throuh the roof on non-essential expenses. Additionally, no deputy is asking to get rich, only to be paid a salary comparable to other similar agencies - if that does not happen, the hiring of new employees will continue to be a huge challenge and turnover will continue which is bad for the department and for the community.

This is a commission problem and until they agree to appropriate the necessary funding, it will never change and the turnover at the RCSO will be high.

broad street narrow mind
348
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broad street narrow mind 08/01/11 - 10:17 am
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asitis, the sheriff has
Unpublished

asitis, the sheriff has offered budget cuts. the sheriff said to the commission in 2010 that he's never gone to the commission with a need and not gotten what he asked. i remember for the 09 or 10 budget the sheriff offering a million dollars to the budget. i can't imagine anyone denying him. do you have links or any hints how i can find an example of the sheriff being turned down when requesting funds? i have never seen it yet.

bclicious
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bclicious 08/01/11 - 10:51 am
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WE ARE SCREWED!

WE ARE SCREWED!

Asitisinaug
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Asitisinaug 08/01/11 - 02:38 pm
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BroadStreet, you are correct

BroadStreet, you are correct in that he has offered to cut the budget but it was requested of him. As we both know, it is a political positon and no matter who is in that position some politics will be as usual. I will look at past articles for links but in a short search I could not find any to suppot your nor my statements as the exact "how" it happend. Of course, some obviously occurs behind closed doors. I do know that the Sheriff within the last year stated he needed more personnel and that it was in an article as well so I will look.

That being said, we are both on the same page - just comes down to who exactly and since ultimately the commission holds the purse strings they are the final say on budgets. However, I do believe you are correct in that the Sheriff has never been publiclly denied requested funds as most negotians are not available to the public.

broad street narrow mind
348
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broad street narrow mind 08/01/11 - 02:29 pm
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fair enough, asitis. you
Unpublished

fair enough, asitis. you could be very right that it's all decided behind closed doors. i remember one year (when they were working out the 2009 or 2010 budget i think) in budget meetings, the sheriff's department was scheduled to be discussed one day, but it was quietly moved to another day and turns out the sheriff had a million dollars to give up. who wanted it that way and what closed door meetings led to it, i have no idea whatsoever. regardless, the sheriff doesn't seem to back down on much else, why does he give up money from the law enforcement budget so easily, requested or not?

Asitisinaug
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Asitisinaug 08/01/11 - 02:50 pm
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Broad Street, can't answer

Broad Street, can't answer that one for you...I can only assume. However, some commissioners have threatened to bring back "county police" - a disastrous idea so that the commission would primarily control law enforcement and the Sheriff would control the jails and courts. Therefore, to some extent, it is in the best interest of the Sheriff to work with the commission when at all possible and never publicly make them look bad - of course they do that enough on their own anyway.

I don't care as much about the politics of it as I do the fact that this community needs more police presence, more deputies within the road patrol and salaries that are comparable to other similar agencies of size and demographics.

We continue to have large turnover (not good for RCSO or the community) and now due to salaries/furloughs can't even fill the approved positions for those who have quit.

This is a bad situation to be in and does not appear to be getting any better anytime soon.

broad street narrow mind
348
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broad street narrow mind 08/01/11 - 02:48 pm
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i have a similar interest and
Unpublished

i have a similar interest and wish list. more presence including precinct policing (walking beats would be wonderful), more deputies, and better salaries for our deputies- especially for good qualifications and good performance. i think many people in richmond county feel this way.
i'd love to see a citizen review board in this county. we need more cooperation between citizens and law enforcement. should we maybe even consider volunteer deputies?

Little Lamb
46850
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Little Lamb 08/01/11 - 03:07 pm
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AsItIs wrote: . . . some

AsItIs wrote:

. . . some commissioners have threatened to bring back "county police" - a disastrous idea so that the commission would primarily control law enforcement and the Sheriff would control the jails and courts. Therefore, to some extent, it is in the best interest of the Sheriff to work with the commission when at all possible and never publicly make them look bad - of course they do that enough on their own anyway.

We agree here, AsItIs. If one has an incompetent or corrupt sheriff, you might need a separate police force. But by all counts Ron Strength has been effective and honest. The minority on the commission that occasionally wake up and call for a separate police force have been ignored to date; but you never know when they will rear their heads again.

broad street narrow mind
348
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broad street narrow mind 08/01/11 - 03:19 pm
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when does a city need a
Unpublished

when does a city need a police force? is augusta not big enough? what size city usually gets a city force to complement the county sheriff? would augusta not benefit from precinct policing and beat cops? is the sheriff even considering doing this?

Riverman1
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Riverman1 08/01/11 - 04:00 pm
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Broad St NM, well, one of the

Broad St NM, well, one of the supposed advantages to the county consolidation was only having one police force. The problem is the RCSO was a rural department previously headed by a former game warden, Charlie Webster, with lots of "friends" if you know what I mean.

He hand picked Ronnie (Whitey's friend) Strength to be the next sheriff and introduced him to the political powers in South Augusta and to his "friends." Strength came from that mindset of county cars running around on the highways to a call here and there.

Urban-community policing with the officers having a role in prevention and building relationships with the people is much different than a game warden type mindset of policing.

Rueben Greenberg, the black chief, of the Charleston City Police Department wrote extensively on what community policing can do. He went among the people on a daily basis. Strength is not physically or emotionally capable of walking among the people.

Asitisinaug
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Asitisinaug 08/01/11 - 04:41 pm
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BSNM, long story short, we

BSNM, long story short, we absolutely need community policing.

Reality: 42 less positons alloted by the commission then RCSO had in 2000, combined with high turnover and according to this article 38 unfilled approved positions. Add to that the 5 furlough days x 700 employees x 12 hours shifts and you need to take away an additional 42,000 man hours for this year or another 19 deputies for the year based on them working 2,200 hours each. Combined, this means the Sheriff currently has 99 less deputies working than he did in 2000 and is only allowed to currently fill 38 of those slots.

Riverman1 may be partially right but I would be willing to bet that if the Sheriff were allowed to replace all 99 deputies at this time with a salary comparable to similar departments he certainly would do so and would dedicate as many as needed to true community policing.

Currently, the Sheriff's Office call volume per officer far exceeds other departments and combined with the shortage of manpower will not allow for any type of communtiy policing. The little pro-active policing that we see is because of good caring officers/deputies and supervisors doing their absolute best in very difficult circumstances.

I am a firm believer in community oriented policing but without funding and manpower it simply can not happen. As for citizen review boards

Riverman1
86756
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Riverman1 08/01/11 - 04:52 pm
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I've got a suggestion.

I've got a suggestion. Policing in Richmond County has to be one of the toughest jobs anywhere, including Alaskan king crab fishing. I assume no one signs up to be a reserve unpaid officer. That could be partly because the RCSO doesn't seek these people willing to volunteer out. It could also be because it is such a tough job no volunteers will do it.

On the other hand, Columbia County has lots of reserve officers with little to do. They ride around with an officer every now and then and see little actual police work. Why not ask Columbia County to allow their reserve officers to work with Richmond County to fulfill their mandatory hours? It would get the officers needed training and help Richmond County tremendously. A win-win thing.

broad street narrow mind
348
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broad street narrow mind 08/01/11 - 05:22 pm
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interesting posts, rm1 and
Unpublished

interesting posts, rm1 and aii.
i hear you with the columbia county reserve officer share and need there compared to here, but when people volunteer i'm thinking it's a civic spirit thing that might not export well.
i would volunteer for a richmond county walk around beat. i think a lot of people would. wouldn't it be great to have the grouches of every neighborhood who complains about punks and thugs walking a beat and telling on kids to their family and writing ticket for loud radios? i think we have a source here to tap. i wonder if we can get this program going?

Riverman1
86756
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Riverman1 08/01/11 - 05:36 pm
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Broad St.NM, sure it all

Broad St.NM, sure it all comes down to the RCSO working with the public to encourage reserve officers...and asking if Columbia County reserves could be used. I've got an old lady that lives in my neighborhood who sees everything. If you put a badge and gun on her, crime statistics in the western hemisphere would show a statiscal decline I'm sure.

Asitisinaug
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Asitisinaug 08/01/11 - 06:26 pm
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Reserves are a great step in

Reserves are a great step in the right direction to help any department. It has taken over 15 years to get CC staffed as they are but you do have to start somewhere.

That being said, it will not solve being shorthanded on beats and positions that must be filled 24/7 which currently stands between 42-99 deputies depending on how you wish to look at it just to be back to the level of staffing in 2000.

CC Reserves work about 20 hours + per month. I doubt Sheriff Whittle or the commissoners would take on the added liability for such a program and even if they did, the FTO program for RC is 240 hours so it would be a good while before they were prepared to take on the streets.

Again, it is a good program, it needs to be implemented and there are in fact reserves already serving parts of Richmond County through the Hephzibah Police Department. However, even with many reserves, it does not address the immeidate concerns and future concerns of the pay, benefits and needs of deputies as well as the full time staffing needs.

Brad Owens
4715
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Brad Owens 08/01/11 - 08:15 pm
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More cops please...only 22

More cops please...only 22 Narcs out of 750? WOW...

Emerydan
10
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Emerydan 08/02/11 - 12:00 am
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Riverman summed it up

Riverman summed it up perfectly. Sheriff's depts as the main law enforcement agency is generally found in RURAL counties. Their style is completely different from a police department, and is more suited for a more rural county where population is more scattered. This is why most cities use police departments as their main law enforcement agencies with a police chief. There style tends to be more precinct based to meet the demands of a denser, more clustered population. This is why the concept of community-based policing is so foreign to Sherifff Strength. Of course it is, because its not how sheriff's do things.

Sentinel
1
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Sentinel 08/02/11 - 12:43 am
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@Riverman....Webster was

@Riverman....Webster was former ATF, not a game warden.

Asitisinaug
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Asitisinaug 08/02/11 - 01:17 am
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Emerydan, Sheriff's Offices

Emerydan, Sheriff's Offices who have been given the budget to conduct community policing have done well with it as Columbia County and MANY counties have shown throughout Georgia. With the exception of cities, Sheriff's Offices greatly outnumber police departments as the primary law enforcement agencies for counties such as Richmond County.

When you have a commission that will allow the Feds to pay for 40 COPS (Community Oriented Police) officers until the grant expires after 3 years and they then de-fund every single position, you can't place any of the blame on the Sheriff.

Brad Owens
4715
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Brad Owens 08/02/11 - 02:43 am
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Sentinel, Sorry you are both

Sentinel,

Sorry you are both wrong. He was never a Federal Agent, he was a Georgia Revenue Agent.

He was a "Revenooer" who went after moonshiners.

Brad

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