About six weeks from now, the Bibb County Sheriffs Office and the Macon Police Department will be one entity, and both organizations say theyre ready.
Since he was elected as sheriff in 2012 -- the same year local voters approved consolidating the city and the county -- David Davis said combining the two law enforcement agencies has been forefront in his mind.
Were pretty well set to go, Davis said last week.
Davis and his staff have completed an organization chart breaking down the command structure of the consolidated sheriffs office, and hes been busy deputizing various police units, such as the bomb disposal squad, the crime scene unit and the Youth & Intervention team.
Were going through the different functions so that well be ready by Jan. 1, Davis said. The new officers need to have the same authority to do their job.
Whenever possible, Davis said hes trying to blend each unit to be a true mix of police and sheriffs personnel. Majors and captains from both agencies will be in charge at various precincts. The only real exception is that current deputies who have duties that police officers currently dont -- ranging from serving at the Bibb County jail to working security at the courthouse -- will continue those jobs for the near future. Davis said those opportunities will be available to current officers in the future.
Were going to continue to use experience where it was, he said. Were going to look at skill sets. We have highly trained people in both departments. The jail and court services is something the sheriffs office knows about. When we get started, well be looking at experience.
Interim Macon Police Chief Mike Carswell said his personnel have been experiencing a mix of excitement and nervousness about the merger.
Weve been kept well-informed of all the changes, he said. A lot of people are excited, because there will be some new opportunities. ... Were ready.
Carswell will have a role in the new command structure, though he and Davis both declined to comment about it because details are still being worked out.
Some things not ready
While Davis has most details set for the transition, not everything will be ready when the official January merger rolls around.
While every member of the new sheriffs office will have a badge, some may not have new uniforms on that first day. Davis said hes been working with the vendor to get the uniforms, but putting together the 600 uniforms being ordered requires taking care of many time-consuming details.
Youre talking thousands of pieces of clothing, with patches that need to be sewn on, he said. The shirt that we picked is a new product for the company, so they are having to manufacture it from scratch. Its possible that (deputies and officers) will go out in old uniforms. We hope thats not the case. Even if theyre in a police department uniform, theyll still carry a sheriffs badge.
Additionally, many of the patrol vehicles from both agencies wont have the new paint scheme yet. Davis said the goal is to have all the vehicles remarked by the end of March. It will cost between $100,000 and $150,000 to repaint the cars, Davis said, but that money will come from confiscated and commissary funds, not tax dollars.
It also will be necessary to make sure city officers will carry the same equipment deputies currently use. All deputies now carry Tasers, but not all police officers do. Davis said the police department has been working over the past year to buy Tasers for all officers.
Theres one difference, however, between the two agencies that wont be addressed at least until the beginning of the new fiscal year that begins July 1. On average, the sheriffs employees make more in salary than their city counterparts. With budgets set for the first half of 2014, theres no way to address the disparity when the agencies merge.
Any decisions will have to be made by (the new government), Davis said. They set the budget and allocate funds. Ive been advocating for some remedy, and were going to make as lean a budget as we can so funds can be used to equalize pay. Certainly, its a morale issue and a management issue. And it could become a legal issue, because its a fair labor standards situation. Theres a whole lot of unpleasant things that could result. Thats one of the things we need to work together on. In a perfect world, for the first six months, well work with what weve got, and in the next budget, well look at all avenues.
Davis said the gap isnt as wide among line officers. Deputies earn on average about $4,000 to $5,000 more per year than Macon officers. However, the gap increases significantly as deputies and officers gain more experience and advance in rank.
At 10-plus years, thats really when you start to see the difference, Davis said. I know of one police (official) who is almost $20,000 off (from a sheriffs counterpart). It goes across the board with rookies and experienced officers. In the police department, (people in the same jobs) make the same salary -- experience doesnt matter. (In the county), experience counts in the step raises. Thats what causes the disparity. Its not fair in and of itself.
Carswell said his department is aware of the issue and said its something that will need to be addressed.
I was concerned about the pay difference, he said. But its not going to affect our attitude or the way we approach our work.
Davis said hes anticipating retirements among some of his more experienced veterans, and hopes to be able to save money through attrition. He said hes heard concerns of current civilian workers from the city and county about possibly having to reapply for their jobs, but he said has no plans on making any cuts from their ranks.
Bibb County purchased the former Sears Building on Third Street to serve as the main headquarters for the new sheriffs office, though the work wont be finished until late 2014. It will house the investigations unit, the records office and other functions. Davis and his executive staff will remain at the Bibb County Law Enforcement Center, however.
The combined agency will use current police precincts as main offices in the various districts but also use current sheriffs substations.
The investigations units will mix together the approaches of the police department and the sheriffs office. Davis said he will adopt the city practice of assigning investigators to specific focuses, such as homicide or property crimes, but he also will incorporate the sheriffs approach of assigning those investigators to cover different geographic areas.
Were blending the two philosophies, he said, adding that he also has solicited ideas from other law enforcement agencies around the state that have undergone consolidation to find out what works and what doesnt.
The bedrock principle is that the merger is the true integration of two agencies to create a new agency. Some of the facets will be what the police department has done, and some of the facets will be what the sheriffs office has done, he said.
Davis said the most important thing for the consolidated agency is to be in a position to hit the ground running Jan. 1.
My job is to make it happen, he said. Ive got too much pride in what I do, too much pride in the community.
Carswell said that while its disappointing to see the police department disappear, the new agency is a chance to be a part of something historic.
I think its one of the bright spots of consolidation, he said. Were learning, and weve shown we can adapt. Im so proud of the unit Im bringing over. I hate to see the department go, but were handling it with grace and professionalism.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.