More than six months after Macon police and Bibb deputies merged, the sheriff’s office is becoming a united force, but some work remains.
Former Macon police officers have been evaluated, and promotions are set to be announced in the next few weeks.
“We’re truly blending the command staff,” Sheriff David Davis said.
By Georgia law, the Civil Service Board reviews deputies and submits a list of prospects for promotion. Davis selects from those names.
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The sheriff created the rank of colonel last year, which was given to the former acting Macon police chief, Mike Carswell, and former sheriff’s Maj. Mike Scarbary.
The issue of pay parity, a dilemma not unique to the sheriff’s office, has not been resolved.
City and county workers who were doing the same jobs were paid at different rates before consolidation.
Some deputies make thousands of dollars more per year than their colleagues who came from the police department.
“It’s a complex issue, and it factors into pensions and a whole lot of things,” Davis said. “It’s like checkers or chess. You do something over here, and you have to compensate over there.”
First-year Macon-Bibb County Commissioner Scotty Shepherd, who worked more than 30 years as a Bibb deputy, finds the budget process difficult.
“When you’re dealing with paychecks and people’s lives, it gets pretty heavy,” Shepherd said.
The commission is waiting for input from the Middle Georgia Regional Development Commission before deciding salary equity issues.
The sheriff’s office is revamping its incentive pay program. Employees get points based on their training and performance. In the past, the sheriff’s office paid those bonuses monthly but will now reward workers with a lump sum in December, which is what the Macon Police Department did years ago, Davis said.
Awarding the extra pay in the middle of the fiscal year helps with budgeting. This year, the sheriff requested a little more than $54 million and received about $51.4 million, which is about equal to the former police and sheriff budgets combined.
Although the consolidation agreement calls for at least a 5 percent reduction in Bibb County’s budgets going forward, that is a total reduction and does not necessarily mean the sheriff’s budget will shrink that much, Davis said.
“There are workarounds in the charter for public safety,” he said.
The full scope of monetary needs will not be clear until renovations are complete at the old Sears building at Riverside Drive and Third Street, which will house departments now scattered in different buildings.
Criminal investigations, drug squad, gang unit, traffic division and central records will move to the law enforcement annex.
Much of the work is being done by the county’s Central Services Department and inmate labor.
Completion is months away, but the sheriff hopes some offices will move in by the end of the year.
Davis and his immediate administrative staff will remain on Oglethorpe Street.
“This is where the public expects to see the sheriff, in this building,” said Davis, who was seated at his desk office on the ground floor of the Bibb County Law Enforcement Center.
Atop his desk, two toy buses emblazoned with consolidation stickers read: “Either get on it, or get under it.”
Although Shepherd did not support consolidation, he is pleased with what he has seen in the sheriff’s office.
“I think the sheriff’s office was definitely the leader in the merger,” Shepherd said. “They were better prepared than any other department.”
Shepherd also recognizes Davis’ efforts to weed out ineffective or problem employees, including four deputies recently accused of corruption.
“The sheriff has had to bust several since he’s taken over,” Shepherd said. “But he’s good to his (deputies). They’re figuring out if you’re doing your job, he’s going to leave you alone, but if you’re a screw-up, he’s going to be after you.”
Once sheriff’s offices move to the annex, Davis will be able to determine if staff reductions are warranted.
At this point, the sheriff’s office is operating with about 60 vacancies.
The 800-member operation that includes 640 sworn deputies is the fifth-largest law enforcement agency in Georgia, Davis said. An additional 20 deputies will be needed to staff the new Juvenile Justice Center that is about to open at the corner of Second and Oglethorpe streets near the jail.
Although inmate overcrowding has been an issue in the past, the LEC has been running nearly 100 inmates under the 966-inmate capacity for about a year.
A number of factors contribute to the lower jail population, he said. For one, the state is getting better at picking up its inmates bound for prisons.
“Before we used to have as many as 140 inmates waiting to go to a state facility,” Davis said.
Last week, only two dozen state prisoners were in the jail.
Changes with Georgia’s Criminal Justice Reform Act classified some former felonies as misdemeanors, which speeds up the wheels of justice as felony prosecutions generally take longer to clear.
But Davis also credits prosecutors and judges with moving swiftly on serious and violent cases. “We’re seeing some significant sentences handed down on some of these gang cases,” he said.
Those stiffer penalties can work as a deterrent for others still on the streets.
Davis is pleased with the cooperation he’s getting from District Attorney David Cooke and Superior Court Judge Howard Simms.
“I call us the ‘gangbusters,’’’ Davis said. “When you have teamwork like that ... we’re seeing some significant sentences now.”
Information from The Telegraph archives was used in this report.