The Columbia County Sheriff's Office is looking for a few good men -- and women -- to fill up a class for reserve deputies.
Tuition is expensive, and once they're certified the reserve officers aren't paid to serve. With those odds, it's incredible that there are only a couple of spots left in the upcoming class.
The number of reserve officers serving in the Columbia County Sheriff's Office became a trial-balloon issue in the recent campaign to unseat Sheriff Clay Whittle. The incumbent sheriff easily won re-election, so his opponent's criticism obviously never got any traction.
But Whittle agrees the shortage of reserve officers -- there are just over a dozen now assisting the agency -- is a matter of concern. The problem? Georgia's Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, for more than two years, hasn't authorized a local class for training and certifying new reserves -- even as Columbia County's numbers dwindled.
"I had to go to the director in Forsyth (POST's headquarters) and beg him to get a class," Whittle said.
The good news? Another class recently was authorized, and is taking applicants. The bad news? Columbia County needs a minimum of 16 potential reserve officers to fill a class -- and they're still short. "I'm just a couple of people away from having a full class," said Whittle.
Still, this is a case of the glass being far more than half-full in spite of significant hurdles:
Though POST agreed to set up the class, the agency set up the training at Richmond County's site far away in south Augusta, rather than Columbia County's entirely adequate training facility close by in Appling.
The cost has also risen. The $1,800 tuition already was a lot to ask from volunteers; now it's $2,850. Grants may be available, but Whittle says community and business support for future deputies would be greatly appreciated.
After jumping through all those hoops, the classes are two nights each week, and alternating Saturdays and Sundays. The graduates become certified police officers, and can even patrol on their own after passing a supplemental program in the Sheriff's Office.
"You can't tell the difference between a reserve deputy and a regular deputy," Whittle says. "The only difference is the reserve deputies are volunteers -- they aren't paid."
For Columbia County, those reserves have often provided a steady source of new recruits for full-time deputy positions. Coming to the agency already certified and street-experienced saves taxpayers tremendous money in training costs -- and time on the job also allows Whittle's staff plenty of time to evaluate future officers before they're on the payroll.
The class starts soon, and more students are needed. Those interested in protecting and serving an appreciative community should call 541-2856 for more information.
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