Four local deputies headed off to Louisiana yesterday for a mutual aid stint of up to two weeks to help fellow law enforcement officers with post-hurricane support.
Newton County Sheriff's Office Capt. Marty Roberts, 1st Lt. Mark Mitchell, Sgt. Randy Downs and Deputy Kevin Watkins scrambled to pack and prepare to leave about two hours after they received the final word Wednesday morning.
Along with deputies from Bartow, Cobb, Forsyth, Harris, Oconee and Walton counties and headed by Oconee County Sheriff Scott Berry, they'll be assisting the deputies of Ascension Parish, which sits about halfway between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
"These are smaller counties that don't have that many employees, so our deputies are going over there to relieve local deputies," said Newton County Sheriff Joe Nichols, adding that many of the parish deputies have already worked long hours during Hurricane Gustav's progression.
The National Sheriff's Association first put out word early this week to Georgia and several surrounding states that Louisiana might need mutual aid, said Nichols.
"Sheriffs traditionally and historically have done this," he said. "If we have, God forbid, damage in south Georgia, deputies will come from north Georgia to help."
The initial estimate of about 200 deputies was reduced to 40 by the time the formal request went out Wednesday morning.
The NCSO deputies sent were chosen because of their training and willingness to go, Nichols said, but many more volunteered than were chosen.
He emphasized that the salaries, overtime, mileage and expenses of the four deputies, while they were providing mutual aid, would be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to local jurisdictions.
"So it's not the (local) taxpayers paying for this," he said.
Newton County has provided assistance to a number of counties over the years, Nichols said, including to Rockdale County for a lab fire and Walton County for an incident in downtown Monroe. Newton has not had to request aid within recent years.
"We've been fortunate," Nichols said. "I'd rather be going to help somebody else than having them help us. Nobody wants terrible destruction in their jurisdiction."