Burke County to boost deputy ranks with $650,000 grant

Burke County Sheriff's Office
Burke County Sheriff's Office(WRDW)
Published: Jun. 3, 2020 at 5:16 PM EDT
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Wednesday, June 3, 2020

BURKE COUNTY, GA (WRDW/WAGT) -- Big news out of Burke County as the Burke County Sheriff’s Department just received a nearly $650,000 federal grant to hire six new deputies.

Their plans for the money: to encourage better community policing and improving response times.

Firstly, the grant does not have anything to do specifically with the protests that are happening nationwide, but the Burke County Sheriff’s Office says, indirectly, they hope it improves relations between law enforcement and civilians.

Chief Deputy Lewis Blanchard of the agency says policing has changed quite a bit the past few decades.

"Twenty years ago, you didn’t think of policing as handing out ice cream, and eating hamburgers, and coffee with a cop," he said.

But he says that kind of "community policing" can make the difference building trust and understanding.

"We have to approach things from a different way and that comes with a lot more training, a lot more education, a lot of empathy," Chief Blanchard said. "We do have to make sure that we are not part of the problem."

Marcus Henry owns a business in Burke County and says support and conversation brings law enforcement and the community closer.

"With the recent things that have happened, Ahmaud Arbery, you did see the sheriff and the police department out in force - not just policing people, but actually taking a part in the march," Henry said.

The money from the grant will pay the salaries of six new deputies for three years, and department policy says those deputies will get three times the amount of training required by the state.

"It takes more hours of training in the state of Georgia to get your barber’s license than it does to get your police officer certification," Chief Blanchard said.

That extra training will include learning to talk to civilians and de-escalate situations. Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but often it's necessary for their rural county.

"If you ever watch videos where you see police officers being more overly aggressive, generally there’s plenty of them there," Chief Blanchard said. "The police officer who’s the lone police officer has to talk his way through things."

BCSO also hopes the additional officers will help get their average response times down. Currently, their average response time is sitting at about 15 minutes.

Only about 55 percent of agencies who applied for this particular grant actually received an award. The other agencies in the Southern District of Georgia awarded grants were:

• The city of Savannah to hire 15 additional officers.

• Glynn County to hire eight additional officers.

• The Dublin Police Department to hire three officers.

• The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office to hire one officer.

• The Treutlen County Sheriff’s Office to hire one officer.

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