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Hall County Sheriffs Office rides out the recession
Furloughs affect manpower
Hall County Sheriff’s Deputy Ezio Comparini prepares for a Tuesday afternoon shift out on the roads of Hall County. The recession meant more crimes in 2009 and the sheriff’s office had to keep up with the demand despite a shrinking budget.

For the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, 2010 will be much like 2009: trying to do more with less.

An economic climate that forced the county government to implement furloughs that drain the sheriff’s office of 3,000 manhours a month has also contributed to more calls for service. A down economy typically results in more thefts, and the sheriff’s office has scrambled to keep up, said Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic.

“The demand for our services has increased while at the same time we’ve got reduced staffing because of the economy,” Cronic said. “When I look back on 2009, I’m really proud of the men and women here who have stepped up when we’ve asked more of them.”

Despite the cuts in personnel funding to the department, the sheriff’s office still had a year to be proud of, Cronic said. He pointed to numerous recognitions the office received during 2009, including national awards for its School Resource Officer program, ADVANCE Summer Camp and honors from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety for traffic enforcement. Deputy Joe Groover was named 2009 Deputy of the Year by the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association, marking the third time in four years a Hall County deputy has received the award.

Meanwhile, federal grants paid for 18 new in-car computers for patrol supervisors and a replacement for the Hall County Dive Team’s 20-year-old truck.

Cronic noted that the Hall County Jail took in close to $5 million by charging other counties to board inmates, a figure he said represents about 5 percent of the county’s general fund budget.

“Without that and without those efforts, there would be no way the county could meet the demand for services countywide.” Cronic said. “We’ll continue to work toward doing everything we can in our power to help the taxpayers with things like the boarding program.”

In 2010, the sheriff’s office will continue to work to expand its neighborhood watch program, which has been important in preventing residential burglaries and has led to some arrests, the sheriff said.

“We really redoubled our neighborhood watch efforts this year, and it’s something we’re going to hit hard on this next year to combat the increase in thefts,” Cronic said.

The sheriff’s office has expanded its Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad partnerships to Forsyth and Cherokee counties, and drug enforcement officers look to share more information with investigators in those jurisdictions, Cronic said. The sheriff said the office’s continued narcotics work with federal law enforcement agencies will be more important than ever in the coming year.

“We’re seeing a lot of (drugs) come up from Mexico,” Cronic said. “We can continue to count on that trend being one of the challenges when it comes to narcotics, not just in this community but all our communities across the country.”

Perhaps the biggest resource upgrade envisioned for the sheriff’s office in a modest, economic down year is the Automated Fingerprint Identification System. Cronic said he hopes to use seized funds to purchase the system, which allows for quicker tracing of fingerprints using state and national computerized databases.

Near the end of 2010, the sheriff’s office will be up for reaccreditation by the Commission for Reaccreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies. Preparations for the assessment gives sheriff’s officials a chance to evaluate all aspects of operations.

“It’s a great framework to make sure your policies and procedures are in line and where they should be,” Cronic said.

The sheriff’s office will also study its staffing levels while it continues to operate under the constraints of furloughs, with a hope to bolster the personnel strength when the economic picture improves.“Our hope and our prayer is that the economy turns around and enables us to drop the furlough program and get back with full strength with the officers we have,” Cronic said. “We’ll be updating our staffing studies to make sure that we keep pace with the demand, or at least make known what the needs are.”