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Posted: Wednesday, June 25th 2014 at 12:59pm

Stephens County votes 4-1 to add deputies

By Rob Moore Editor
EMAIL STORY CONTACT EDITOR PRINT
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TOCCOA - The Stephens County Commission voted Tuesday night to grant Sheriff Randy Shirley's request for four additional deputies.

But that vote was not unanimous. Like the decision during the same meeting to add a new road department employee, the vote was 4-1.

Still, Sheriff Randy Shirley is pleased with the decision.

Speaking by phone from a conference in Texas, Shirley said, "That 4-1 vote was very good. I would have loved to have had a unanimous vote, but I'll take what I have. That will give me four deputies."

Shirley said he is pleased the community supported the sheriff's office request for additional deputies.

"First of all, I want to thank the community for coming together, realizing that the need for new deputies was there," Shirley said. "We have put the message out over the past six months. We showed our need."

Shirley said the county's first five-year plan for sheriff's office needs was done shortly after he was elected sheriff in 2009.

"They've had that all those years, so we felt we had no choice but to go to the people and ask that they support us, and they did overwhelmingly," Shirley said. "Even though it's hard times, during hard times crime escalates."

In 2013, Stephens County deputies responded to more than 22,000 calls for service.

"One or two deputies on the street on each of our four shifts - because of the many, many responsibilties that the sheriff's office has - is just not enough," Shirley said. "When they get behind on calls, it causes them to take the priority calls first, of course, but for somebody to have to wait 20 to 45 minutes for a deputy is not acceptable."

The new positions will take effect with the new budget on July 1.

"The sheriff has been asking for some deputies for some time," said Commissioner Dennis Bell. "The way I look at it is if you're an elected official, as a county commissioner you're supposed to take care of the public and the citizens out there. That's one of my things I ran on was public safety."

Bell has 24 years of experience in public safety.

"I have talked to many people out in the community that have had to wait 30 minutes or longer for a deputy to come just to file a report," Bell said. "Some were for burglaries and they didn't know if the person was in the house or not, so I've got a problem with that and I think some of the other commissioners did, too."

Shirley said it will take about six months to get the new deputies trained, noting most of the hires for patrol positions come from within the jail staff. Those who are not currently POST-certified will spend 11 weeks in the academy.

"It takes a while to go through the hiring process," Shirley said.

The department also requires an eight-week field training for new officers.

"We want our citizens to be safe; we want our deputies to definitely be safe, because there's nobody to back them up on a lot of the domestic calls they go on," Shirley said. "Luckily we haven't had anybody injured, other than some on the road checks when folks try to get away, but I'm elated to have a 4-1 vote by the commission. They know the need, and the community is standing up and supporting us on this endeavor."

Shirley said the new hires still will not put him in line with surrounding counties.

He cited Franklin County, which has a population of 21,000 and has five deputies on each of its four shifts. Stephens County has 26,400 residents.

Bell said the new deputies are overdue.

"It's something that was needed probably a couple of years ago and he's just now getting it," Bell said.
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