Burke County sheriff asks for funding to raise level of service

Published: Aug. 17, 2022 at 6:25 PM EDT
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WAYNESBORO, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Recruiting shortages for sheriff’s offices is an issue we’ve heard Richmond and Columbia County speak on.

Burke County officials say they’re battling similar issues on top of being a rural area. They’re asking for over a million dollars from commissioners to recruit and retain the deputies they already have

Burke County deputies make around $5,000 less a year than deputies in Richmond and Columbia County. The wider gap is that they make $11,000 less than the average deputy in Georgia.

Sheriff Alfonzo Williams says the money would allow a much-needed upgrade for his department. That includes investing in his deputies. He believes higher education means a higher level of service.

Out of the $1.2 million Williams proposed in Tuesday’s county meeting, a portion would go towards education incentives for his officers. Burke County Sheriff’s Department has no educational or retention incentives.

“A lot of kids will ask me ‘What did you go to college for,’ and what do you have a degree, and it feels good to tell them,” said Sergeant Community Services Anthony Bennerman.

Bennerman has been in his position for four years and in law enforcement for more than 10 years. He recently got his master’s and says education helps with his everyday duties.

“This is not just about the money that comes along with it, but with higher education, also comes with promotions and greater opportunities,” he said.

Bennerman says 50 percent of his job is connecting with the community, especially young people.

“As we are mentoring these youth, telling them to go to college and get degrees, it’s beneficial because we can’t tell them to do something we don’t have,” he said.

Williams is looking to rebrand law enforcement, starting with increasing the pay for degreed officers and those joining the force.

“We got to recruit a better-educated workforce,” said Sheriff Alfonzo Williams. “The more educated one is the better decisions they will make.”

If approved, an officer with an associate degree would get an increase of $1,000 a year. For a bachelor’s, it would be $1,500, and for a master’s, it’s an extra $2,000.

“Recruit, hire, train and retain qualified people that we can afford,” he said. “This past summer, we had eight people graduate with higher degrees which is remarkable within itself.”

Williams says he will know in the next two weeks if this extra money is approved.

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