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Some sheriff’s workers take unpaid time off by the hour

POSTED: October 26, 2008 5:01 a.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Hall County Sheriff's Deputy Mike Free, prepares for a ride outside of the Hall County Law Enforcement Center Wednesday. Under the new county-mandated furlough plan, "Special Operations" deputies like Free who usually concentrate on traffic enforcement will be asked to help patrol deputies answer calls for service.

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When Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic was faced with a county mandate to furlough all 480 of his employees for one day a month, he looked around for other law enforcement agencies in the state that faced the same challenge.

He didn’t find any.

The Hall County Sheriff’s Office may be the first large law enforcement agency in Georgia to require that its peace officers take an unpaid day off, but it likely won’t be the last in this time of shrinking government revenues.

"We’re in uncharted territory here," Cronic said Wednesday. "We have a good plan that we’re confident in, but at the same time we’ll have to see how it affects us as we move forward."

With the exception of some administrative and support staff, the sheriff’s office can’t close its offices once a month as most other Hall County departments are doing. Most of Cronic’s employees are within the "emergency" or "critical" personnel categories, with jobs in the patrol, investigations and jail divisions.

In the uniform patrol division, the furlough mandate will require a Herculean juggling of schedules, with one or two deputies taking off during each day’s two 12-hour shifts and deputies who are normally assigned to special operations duty filling in on calls when needed, Cronic said.

When the Hall County Commission approved 16 new deputy positions for the sheriff’s office last year, it enabled the patrol map to expand from 12 to 15 districts, with a deputy assigned to each district. The expansion was meant to cut down on response times and increase law enforcement visibility.

Now, "when you look at the number of man hours lost to the furlough, it basically puts us back to the levels we were at before we were able to expand to 15," Cronic said.

Cronic said his office will maintain the 15-district map, using crime suppression and traffic enforcement deputies as back-ups during times of heavy call volume.

The office’s response times in recent years have generally varied from five minutes or less for emergency calls to 15 minutes for nonemergencies. While Cronic said he hopes most county residents won’t notice a change, he said they could wait a little longer on nonemergency calls.

"We’re going to continue to do our best to maintain good response times, not only for emergencies, but for nonemergencies," Cronic said. "Time will only tell how those will be affected moving forward."

In the sheriff’s court services division, deputies will take off the same designated furlough days as all other courthouse employees, including judges, prosecutors, clerks and support staff, with court shut down for the day.

At the 1,026-bed Hall County Jail, where manpower is perhaps most critical, detention officers will take off a few hours at a time throughout the month in order to get up to the eight-hour mandate, Cronic said.

"We’re scattering it throughout the month so it has the least amount of impact on operations there," Cronic said.

Cronic said everyone is making sacrifices in these tough economic times.

"We’re not going to do anything that would ever jeopardize public safety, but we’re going to do everything to meet the needs of this community, while at the same time saving money and making the kinds of moves that need to be made to get us through this crisis as a county," he said.



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