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This crucial upgrade will help protect Dawson County SWAT deputies
SWAT truck
DCSO’s SWAT team currently uses a surplus ambulance. Photo submitted to DCN.

After the matter first came to the Board of Commissioners in January, the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office is now well on its way to getting a crucial piece of new SWAT equipment.

This story continues below.

During their Feb. 2 voting session, the board unanimously approved a financing option for DCSO to secure a bonafide SWAT truck. The $300,000 purchase will ultimately be funded by the agency’s Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax VII vehicle funds. 

“We appreciate the commissioners’ continued commitment to providing a greater level of public safety to our county,” Dawson County Sheriff Jeff Johnson said in a statement to DCN.

“This vehicle will not only provide a greater response readiness for our sheriff's office, [but] it will provide a level of safety that our SWAT Members have not been accustomed to.”

The sheriff called the board’s decision “yet another example” of their and DCSO’s work to protect the community and the agency’s deputies.

At the BOC’s Jan. 19 work session, Johnson explained to the board that his agency’s S.W.A.T. team was reinstituted in 2017. 

Johnson explained that since that time, they’ve become highly trained, practicing twice a month. Currently, DCSO’s S.W.A.T. team is relying on a federal surplus ambulance that’s run into some 

mechanical issues over the years.

“When we send them out to a scene, we’re sending them out with something that doesn’t have ballistic-type protection,” Johnson said.

Thankfully, though, the converted vehicle has primarily been used for high-risk warrants, with the team not having to respond to many emergent scenes. A new truck would not only offer better ballistic protection, but provide transportation for the S.W.A.T. team and other response options, Johnson added.

“Hopefully we’ll never need it, but in the event that we do, we’ll be prepared,” he said. 

Just as with Dawson County Fire and Emergency services, DCSO has mutual aid agreements with surrounding counties. Of those neighbors, law enforcement agencies in Hall, Forsyth and Cherokee counties have SWAT trucks. 

During the Feb. 2 voting session, District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines asked Johnson

whether reducing DCSO’s $1.5 million SPLOST VII vehicle budget by $300,000 or 25% would still allow the agency to replace standard vehicles on a regular basis.

While he deferred giving a firm “yes,” Johnson said DCSO isn’t having to replace its fleet at the rate that they were since the vehicles are newer and in better shape. 

Johnson later added that DCSO will still purchase the two vehicles needed this year and that the agency has already ordered them. 

“From my seat, we want to give the very best of every equipment we can to every single employee in order to outfit them to do their jobs, especially the frontline guys who put their lives on the line every day…I completely respect and appreciate that,” Gaines said.

The District 2 commissioner added that he wanted to ensure that one to two years down the road, DCSO doesn’t come back before the board “asking $300,000 more for replacing [standard] vehicles.”

Johnson elaborated that’s why he approached the board in this manner. DCSO would only have to subtract about one vehicle off of what’s typically bought per year from SPLOST allocations, and those costs could be absorbed, he said. 

He later estimated it’d take “at least a year” to see the SWAT truck’s delivery, a challenge that DCFES also faced when securing future ambulances. 

Chief Financial Officer and Interim County Manager Vickie Neikirk said by about 2024, there could be enough SPLOST funds collected that the county could pay for the SWAT truck outright. 

So, the board went ahead and approved the option to finance the truck’s purchase, should that become necessary. If the county goes the financing route to spread out the truck cost, they wouldn’t be able to confirm those details until closer to when DCSO would receive the vehicle, Neikirk said. 

In related news, the board formally voted to approve its portion of funding for an additional school resource officer at Dawson County High School. 

The Dawson County Board of Education and the county have a 50-50 agreement to pay for the position, which is worth a total cost of $78,887. This new position comes with a salary and benefits of $49,642.

The BOE already voted to authorize their half for the position, BOC Chairman Billy Thurmond told his colleagues.  

Sheriff Johnson confirmed his agency already has money set aside in the agency’s budget for the SRO’s equipment.

Neikirk added that the county would have to budget for the full cost of the position but clarified that the amount would be offset with revenue the county gets back from the school system.