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Shortage of officers plagues local departments

MACON, Ga. -- Dominique Williams knows the dangers of her job, but that doesn't stop her from protecting and serving.

Williams started as a deputy for the Bibb County Sheriff's Office about five years ago.

"It is really scary sometimes, you have people saying, I ain't going back to jail,' and they're willing to do whatever they have to do to not go back to jail," Williams said.

Bibb County Sheriff David Davis said his office is in desperate need of more deputies like Williams--159 more to be exact.

The deputies they do have are working lots of overtime and different shifts to cope.

"I think the biggest problem that we have is response times to calls," Davis said. "When the deputies come in they may be all the districts backed up, call after call...one deputy may have four or five calls backed up on him."

Most deputies don't mind the money, but the hours are long.

"That is truly a danger there. If you have deputies out there driving cars with firearms and getting themselves into potentially dangerous situations when they're tired," Davis said.

But finding quality applicants is tough, and Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills said Bibb County isn't the only one with this problem.

"It's a nation-wide phenomenon," Sills said. "It's not just hiring, it's keeping them."

A Georgia State Patrol officer, after basic training, now makes more than $46,000 per year.

"When you dial 911 tonight it's a sheriff deputy or city police officer that's responding to that call," Sills said. "These state agencies are support agencies--they're not the front line."

In a survey done by the Georgia Sheriff's Association, 76 sheriff's offices in Georgia said they lost more than 500 deputies to state agencies over the last 10 years.

Sills said that with recent deadly violence against police in Middle Georgia, it is more dangerous than every to wear a badge.

"And who wants to do that for 29,000?" he asked.

Sills has asked state legislators to do for local police and deputies what they did for teachers in setting a minimum salary.

"We did it for school teachers, can't we do it for the people who risk their lives to protect us?" he asked.

Sills added that a statewide sales tax increase could help pay for this so that the burden wouldn't fall on taxpayers.

"We're going to look at that as a state, but hopefully up here we can set a tone for what we do in the county and say, 'Let's find the money to find and keep qualified people who take care of us,'" said Rep. James Beverly (D-Macon).

"Yeah, I'm sure he would love that, but of course we want our law enforcement fairly compensated," said Rep. Robert Dickey (R-Musella) about the proposal to increase sales taxes to help fund law enforcement in the state. "They put their lives on the line everyday it's a tough, tough job...but also the local elected officials need to look at that more closely as well."

But in the meantime, Williams said there are other rewards for this taxing job, like returning a stolen puppy to three young sisters.

"I took that puppy back to those little girls and they cried and hugged me. I was the best deputy in the world at that point," she said.

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