Construction on the Hall County Sheriff’s Office North Hall precinct is moving along, with doors set to open to the public at the end of next month, county officials said.
“We’re hoping by the end of March everything is in place,” Sheriff Gerald Couch said. “Construction will be finalized, and the people staffing the precinct will be selected.”
Couch announced in the fall the sheriff’s office would be establishing a more comprehensive base of operations in the northern and southern parts of the county.
“The reason we created the precincts was after reviewing our call volume, it was clear we needed to look at how we deliver our public safety service,” Couch said. “This will provide safe, more timely responses, especially in emergency services, and day to day it meets the growing demand and needs as the population grows.”
Continual rainfall and icy weather set the construction timeline back somewhat, he said, for the precinct on 122 Dean St. in Clermont. The sheriff’s office swapped with the town of Clermont to secure the bigger space, which sits across from the old King Street location. The town moved its operations to King Street in August.
“I appreciate and am thankful for that agreement with the town,” which helped keep costs down, Couch said.
The sheriff’s office has also employed labor within the department, including furnishings created by woodworker Joey Cain, an equipment specialist for the office, and inmate labor, Couch said.
“We’re trying to meet those needs, stay within our budget and provide the best services we can provide,” he said.
Couch made the proposal to the Hall County Board of Commissioners at its Oct. 21 work session. It was former sheriff and current board Chairman Richard Mecum who made the move to create precincts as a base for patrol when changing shifts.
Lt. Stephen Wilbanks, assistant district commander for patrol, said officers assigned to patrol in North Hall generally travel farther geographically, although call volume is generally lower than in South Hall.
Couch likened the South Hall base of operations, which is also undergoing renovation, to a satellite headquarters, rather than a more basic precinct, with fewer staff and less operational scope.
One big staffing difference between the offices, he said, is the South Hall headquarters will have a criminal investigations team.
“North Hall will have patrol deputies and a community service officer, but the investigation needs of North Hall will still be staffed in Gainesville,” he said. “South Hall will be more full service.”
On his last inspection, Couch said, the outside of the building off Spout Springs Road was being finalized.
“On the inside, they’re still doing framing, putting up Sheetrock and drywall, finishing touches with paint, carpet and tile,” he said. “After all that’s done, then we will be looking (at) personnel.”
Both precincts will be able to access the sheriff’s office computer network, making administrative work easier for patrol officers and commanders, Couch said.
The number of patrol deputies on hand in North Hall will shift depending on the need and volume of calls, Couch said, explaining the command structure.
“Regular patrol shift will be stationed out of there, maybe six to eight deputies; a sergeant in charge of those deputies; also a lieutenant, a watch commander — precinct commander — will be responsible,” he said.
There will also be a community service officer, a position Couch created last March, to help citizens.
“Citizens can come in and get a copy of reports, or file a report, or get advice for anything they need from the sheriff’s office,” he said.
Clermont residents have responded positively to having an enhanced precinct in their backyard, and Couch has touted one of the biggest benefits as strengthening ties between citizens and law enforcement.
“I am a strong proponent of community-oriented policing,” he said. “These are a huge step in that direction, putting us out in the community, being more and more accessible.”