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Letter to the Editor: Public safety remains primary concern
Dawson County Sheriff Jeff Johnson

Most would probably agree that dispute and conflict is not desired between elected officials. However I steadfastly believe that in certain cases it is necessary and appropriate, especially where public safety and service are concerned. The recent civil case involving this office and the board of commissioners is a prime example.  

Now that the action has been heard and is under consideration, it is important to address our community in order to share the reasons behind this dispute.

In 2015, former Sheriff Billy Carlisle requested the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association complete a staffing study to determine staffing needs. The data used to compile this study were taken from Dawson County statistics. Staffing formulas developed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police were also used to determine manpower needs.

In 2015, the study determined that 139 positions were needed to adequately staff our sheriff’s office. Three years later and going into the 2018 budget, there were 112 allotted positions. Statistical evidence produced from 2015 to 2017 confirmed an increase in calls for service, accidents, numerous crimes, etc. It has always been our assertion that the sheriff’s office was understaffed in 2015 and as the years continue to pass, we get further and further behind.

Entering into the 2018 budget year, we did not request all of the 139 positions. It was our hope that the BOC would release previously frozen positions and work together to plan for future staffing, however this did not occur.

In addition, funding was requested for SWAT training/equipment and to pay a supplement in order to have our shift personnel attend a shift change briefing prior to reporting for duty. Dawson County continues to be one of the only law enforcement agencies that does not conduct shift change briefings.

It is imperative that our shift members report for an organized briefing prior to assuming their assigned duties. This briefing is designed to allow for personnel/equipment inspection, zone assignments, BOLO information, special detail information/instructions, extra patrols, etc. This information exchange is critical to ensure that personnel are prepared and ready to assume their roles. Shift change also serves to ensure that continuous coverage is provided to our community.

This civil action has always been about the safety and security of our community. Contrary to published reports, the requested staffing has always been intended to increase patrol officers as well as provide for other components that are in dire need of staff.

As our county grows, we continue to experience the outside influx of criminals and criminal activity. These changes have resulted in more egregious crimes being committed. All too often, our officers are faced with multiple offenders and more serious crimes. These crimes require multiple unit responses which unfortunately require that other zone assignments be vacated to accommodate backup. This is not acceptable to your sheriff’s office and to our community. Adequate staffing would make it safer for our community as well as our law enforcement professionals.

As we continue to address this dispute, we remain open to working together to find a solution. However, our priority will always lie with our people. We remain committed to fighting for our community and our law enforcement professionals. I am convinced that we can take great steps to reduce crime and make our community safer; but we must provide for the staffing, tools and equipment to do so.

I understand that this action may be viewed as unpopular by some. However, as your sheriff, I firmly stand behind this decision. I would be failing in my duties as your sheriff, if I did not fight for our community on all fronts.

 

Honored to serve as your sheriff,

Jeff Johnson

Dawsonville