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A look ahead: Police hope to see plans for upgraded facility
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In 2007, Hall County Sheriff's officials finally got their big building built and opened.

In 2008, Gainesville Police hope to get a much-needed new facility off the drawing board.

The new year promises more for each of the county's two biggest law enforcement agencies, with technology upgrades, increased partnerships with federal officials, improved policing strategies and facilities topping the agenda.

Hall County's $54 million jail on Barber Road is now operational, and the new year should see the remaining 200 or so vacant beds in the 1,026-bed facility filled quickly as agreements to house federal prisoners are finalized, Sheriff Steve Cronic said.

"We're pushing hard to get those contracts in place and be at complete capacity so that we're generating revenue to offset operational costs," Cronic said. "We've got a couple of hundred (beds) open right now, but we don't anticipate them being open for very long."

One federal agreement that could have a big effect on local law enforcement could begin as soon as this month, when Cronic hopes to have some of his deputies begin training for a partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Immigrations and Customs Enforcement branch.

Under the terms of what is commonly known as 287(g), Hall Sheriff's officials would be given the authority to detain illegal immigrants who break the law and process them for deportation.

"We have some verbal assurances that it's very close to being a reality here," Cronic said.

The sheriff's office is also expanding the number of patrol divisions across the county from 12 to 15, creating smaller geographical regions for deputies to patrol. The move comes after the sheriff got approval to add 16 additional patrol officers in the last budget.

"It's something we've needed desperately for a long time," Cronic said. "The result will be greater visibility and shorter response times."

The expansion of divisions will also allow the sheriff to devote more deputies to specific units like those that target property or gang-related crimes, and allow them to patrol problem areas without being dispatched from one service call to another, Cronic said.

The sheriff also hopes to see all the county's law enforcement agencies win a Homeland Security Department grant, administered through Gov. Sonny Perdue's office, that could see a vast increase in the number of in-car computer terminals on the roads.

At the Gainesville Police Department, Police Chief Frank Hooper said he hopes that 2008 will be the year some serious planning is finally done on a new headquarters to replace the 33-year-old, 10,000-square-foot facility on Jesse Jewel Parkway.

Hooper said city officials are looking at a headquarters that would be about 50,000 square feet and cost between $12.5 and $14 million, likely funded through sales tax dollars.

The location would change, but officials hope to stay in the midtown area near downtown, Hooper said.

Some big considerations in the new building are more public accessibility - parking is severely restricted at the current police headquarters - as well as more room for police officers to do their jobs.

Hooper said the department has tripled in size since the building opened in 1975. The plans would also make allowances for a municipal court that has been forced to move off-site because of a higher case load.

Hooper said any new design would take into account future expansion.

"We're looking for a building that will be utilized 20 years into the future," Hooper said.

Hooper didn't rule out a groundbreaking before 2009.

"It's something I don't think will come to fruition in 2008, but a lot of hard work will have to be done in 2008," Hooper said.

Hooper added that the department will examine whether it needs to realign or expand its patrol districts, and hopes to work more closely with neighborhoods in addressing traffic-related issues.

Hooper, the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police's reigning Chief of the Year, noted that his department was accredited by the national Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) and re-certified by the state in the past 12 months.

"2007 was a good year for the department," Hooper said. "We're going to try to expand on that and make 2008 an even better year."

Cronic calls the past year, with a CALEA reassessment, the new jail and the implementation of a new $16 million countywide radio system, "probably the busiest year we've had" since he took office in 2001.

"At the same time, it was a very rewarding year," said Cronic, who was named the Georgia Sheriffs' Association's Sheriff of the Year.

Cronic believes his office will build on the advances of 2007.

"We're the kind of agency that feels like we always need to be moving forward," Cronic said.

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