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City council discuss creating own police department
City PD
Billy Carlisle, former sheriff, answers questions from city council members about what would be required for the city to create its own police department. - photo by Allie Dean

The Dawsonville City Council during its Monday work session heard a presentation from City Manager Bob Bolz on the city’s increased need for policing in which he recommended that a new position be created to serve as the first step towards a city-run police department.

Bolz called the presentation “food for thought” and read through a list of city crimes that had occurred within the past few years. Crimes ranged from break-ins and vandalism to murder and possession of controlled substances.

“As our community continues to grow, crime is not going away,” Bolz said. “The Sheriff’s Office has already said ‘hey we’re understaffed, we don’t have enough people to take care of the county.’ The county is growing by leaps and bounds just like the city. So maybe it's time we pitch in and help that effort to resolve some crime.”

Bolz also said that compared to other cities in the region, the city may already be lagging behind by not providing police services.

“Of 103 cities in 32 counties in the north Georgia area, only 21 cities don’t have police departments,” Bolz said.  “Depending on how you look at it, we may be already a little behind in our thinking.”

Bolz recommended a new position be created: a full-time working chief expected to provide 40 hours of law enforcement a week with a salary of $57,000 plus benefits. Other yearly costs included a new vehicle, around $30,000; equipment, $6,000; inmate housing at the jail, $2,500; a city judge, $5,000; and part-time officers with no benefits.

He said funding could come from a variety of places as the city continues to exceed revenue expectations. SPLOST and LOST proceeds as well as public safety grants, revenue from citations and tickets and renegotiation of the city’s service delivery with the county are some of the means the city has to fund a new department, Bolz said.

Bolz was employed at the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office as a lieutenant, training director and director of the office of professional standards when he decided to take the job of city manager in November of 2016. He had been employed at the sheriff's office since 2010.

At the Oct. 23 meeting he brought in former Dawson County Sheriff of 20 years, Billy Carlisle, to recount the history of city and county policing and offer advice should the council decide to create a city police department.

Carlisle said that in the time he spent as sheriff, the city never had a police department and that the city would contract with the county to provide law enforcement. A sheriff’s office deputy would have to be inside city limits from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. each day, but as time went on, those agreements expired.

Today, the city is inside one of the county’s five zones, and the sheriff’s office places one officer in each zone. Officers often travel between zones or to the Ga. 400 area of the county due to high volume, leaving the city uncovered, Carlisle said.

“I don’t want to speak for the sheriff’s office, I’m speaking from what I was doing back in years past, it was very difficult for us to provide law enforcement to the city with the manpower that we had,” Carlisle said. “You can only do so much with how much money you’ve got.”

Carlisle said that a lot of crime volume could be prevented simply by the presence of an officer in the city, but that a memorandum of understanding with the county, sheriff’s office and courts of what services could be shared would be essential.

City council members Caleb Phillips and Angie Smith voiced their intention to work with the county should they decide to create a city police department.

“I want it to be a mutual partnership and I want it to be seen that way, not something we’re going to take away from the sheriff’s department,” Smith said.

“The more that I get out and talking to people, it's a problem, and it's an issue that if we’re not at least talking about or addressing then we’re backing up,” Smith said. ‘It's going to pass us by  and in five to 10 years it is my opinion that we will not be able to catch is much cheaper to try and prevent it from ever happening than to let it run rampant and have to pull the reins back.”

Council member Mike Sosebee said he doubted the city could attract a qualified officer with the salary that was presented, and that it would be difficult to retain quality officers in the city.

“One officer won’t do much for downtown Dawsonville,” Sosebee said.

Carlisle said his deputies made in the high 30s, and that he had seen deputies leave for jobs that paid $40,000, and that Bolz’s proposed salary is more in line with what command staff or supervisors make at the sheriff’s office. 

The discussion will doubtless be the first of many for the city.

Dawson County Sheriff Jeff Johnson, who is currently serving in his first year as sheriff, said Tuesday that he is open to any discussion with the council in regards to the proposal.

“Obviously there is a great deal of consideration involving costs, equipment, responses, etc.,” Johnson said. “There are certainly a lot of logistical issues that would have to be addressed. It is definitely not a decision to be entered into lightly. Law enforcement agencies are expensive to operate.”

Johnson said he also wants to assure city residents that they are still county residents and are priority within his office.