Lots of changes in the works for merged Bibb law enforcement

pramati@macon.comJanuary 20, 2013 

When it comes to merging the Macon Police Department with the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office next year, no detail is too small for Sheriff David Davis.

Take uniforms, for example. Davis could simply order extra deputy uniforms for current police officers to wear when Macon, Bibb County and Payne City consolidate into one government next January.

Instead, Davis is taking a serious approach to new department’s appearance: buying new uniforms for everyone and changing the color scheme of police and sheriff’s vehicles.

“We’re changing all the cars and changing all the uniforms,” he said. “In a merger like this, we’re creating a new law enforcement agency. To put the police department in sheriff’s office uniforms, they’re going to feel like they’re being taken over. (Sheriff’s personnel) would have a psychological edge wearing our (current) uniforms.”

All law enforcement officers in the new department must feel like they’re part of the same team, Davis said.

“That’s crucial to our mission. It’s little things -- you want to be proud of your uniform. ... We want to make everyone feel like they are all equal.”

Davis said he’s heard speculation among police officers who are concerned about their futures. Davis said those fears are natural, and he’s doing his best to allay them.

“They know change is coming,” he said. “Anytime there’s change that’s going to affect your life and livelihood, there’s going to be apprehension. ... In absence of a clear vision, rumors are going to take hold. We’re trying to dispel that.”

Macon Police Chief Mike Burns said Davis answered some of the department members’ questions at a recent meeting, but he anticipates the rumors will continue.

“He went over some things and answered some things to try and put some rumors down,” Burns said.

At that meeting, Davis assured officers they won’t be relegated to jail duty, addressing a concern some officers have had since consolidation got the green light from voters last summer.

“There’s still a lot of anxiety and concern about what’s going to happen among all ranks,” Burns said.

Burns said ranking officers have worked hard to attain their positions, and some of them are concerned they won’t be allowed to continue their current jobs once the merger is complete. Burns said he tries to answer officers’ questions, if Davis has addressed those issues already.

Davis and Burns acknowledge there are several logistical issues to work out. While law enforcement procedures and training generally are the same -- a murder or a robbery is investigated the same way in the city or the county -- the sheriff’s office and police department have different policies, command structure and even equipment.

Davis said he plans to use the standard of accreditation for the new department.

“Why build a lesser standard than accreditation as you merge the two departments?” he asked. “That’s something we want to retain -- to maintain accreditation. Which way (of doing things) meets that standard? That’s the objective standard that we aspire to.”

As a new command structure is created, Davis ultimately will decide how the new sheriff’s office is set up.

For example, he said the sheriff’s office tends to divide the county into geographic zones, with specific investigators assigned to those zones for most crimes except murder. The police department, on the other hand, uses a more centralized approach by dividing its investigators into various specialized areas such as property crimes or drugs.

Davis said he plans to turn the issue over to leaders in both organizations to come up with the best plan.

“They’ll determine how many people we need, the type of facilities they need,” he said. “We’re going to empower the leaders in both departments. If you don’t get a buy-in from the people doing the work, you’ll meet resistance. If they build it, they’ll know where the bugs are.”

Burns’ future uncertain

As of now, Burns won’t have a place in the new consolidated government. He hasn’t been offered a job.

“As far as I know right now, my position and my job disappear,” he said.

If asked, he said, he would consider working in the new government if the conditions were right.

Davis said he’s still working out the command structure. This month, he informed the Bibb County Commission he was moving from two chief deputies to one, with the second position evolving into a chief of staff job. In addition, Davis told commissioners he’s creating the position of director of strategic management. That employee will oversee much of the nuts and bolts of getting through the consolidation process, as well as keeping up with certifications and working with community outreach programs.

One of Davis’ campaign pledges in 2012 was creating a citizens advisory board. He said he will work toward that goal this year and retain the board after consolidation.

Patrols in the city and county likely won’t change much, he said. Since city and county patrol officers know the areas they cover better than members of the other department and because both the sheriff’s office and police department already coordinate patrol duties, Davis said there’s no need to make major changes.

As far as issued equipment, it will be uniform, he said. While all deputies have Tasers, laptops, in-car cameras and advanced weapons, not all police officers do. Davis said he hopes everyone has the same equipment come January, but he admits it will take a lot of money to make that happen. Grants, he said, could cover some of those costs.

While those on patrol won’t see many changes, dispatchers likely will. Davis will merge the police and sheriff’s dispatchers stations into one station, with a secondary dispatching office at the Bibb County Law Enforcement Center that will be able to handle background and warrant checks for patrol officers as well as serve as a backup location in case of technical problems at the primary call center.

Davis said he and Burns have a host of other issues to tackle this year, including the creation of separate six-month budgets for the first half of fiscal 2014 and a combined budget for the second half of the fiscal year. Also, current law enforcement buildings must be assessed to determine if they’re large enough to accommodate the merged office.

No matter what changes are made over the next 11 months, Davis said the new office will have the same ultimate responsibility.

“I want people to know that no matter what, on day one, there will be deputies on the streets protecting citizens,” he said. “We never will forget our bedrock duty to protect the citizens. There will be a deputy to answer that call.”

Writer Amy Leigh Womack contributed to this report. To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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