Recently at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, N.Y., a roundtable discussion was held during the 2012 Annual Meeting of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences that focused on some of the key challenges sheriffs' offices face across the state of Georgia. The panelists who served on this roundtable discussion were Sheriff Ezell Brown of Newton County and Sheriff Ira Edwards Jr. of Clarke County. The roundtable discussion was titled "In Focus: Exploring the Challenges and Related Implications Facing Georgia's Sheriffs." Dr. Brian N. Williams, Associate Professor of Public Administration and Policy at the University of Georgia, moderated the panel.
The purpose of the panel was to discuss for a national audience some of the emerging issues and related challenges that face sheriffs' offices from across the state. These issues were based on findings from a recent survey administered by the Georgia Sheriffs' Association and analyzed by Williams and his colleague Dr. Andrew B. Whitford, Professor of Public Administration and Policy at UGA. Whitford and Williams were assisted by UGA Master's of Public Administration graduate students Joshua Crawford and Gvantsa Iremashvilli and UGA undergraduate student Jasmyn Turner. The data was collected during October 2011. Sixty-nine out of the 159 offices (43 percent of offices in the state) participated in this data collection effort. Williams presented the following findings to the audience.
The Big Picture
The Georgia Sheriffs' Association assigns member offices to nine geographical regions. At least four offices from each region responded to the survey. Region five had the highest participation (12 of 23 offices, or 52.2 percent).
Region eight had the lowest participation (four of 18 offices, or 22.2 percent). The UGA research team divided offices into small, medium and large offices: small offices had less than 75 sworn officers (46 offices); medium-sized offices had between 76 and 200 sworn officers (14 offices); and large offices had more than 201 sworn officers (nine offices).
Of the offices responding to the survey, the responses from small offices represented 39 percent of these size offices within the state. The responses from the medium and large offices represented 61 percent and 53 percent, respectively, of medium and large offices within the state.
Analysis of the survey responses showed the top three issues are: mental health issues, reduced budgets and the resulting financial stress impacting the office and illegal drugs and their related impacts. Also identified were other problems of importance to the responding offices: overcrowding, understaffing or other staff management issues and the difficult political environment at the state and local levels due to a decline in tax revenue and the appropriation of needed funds.
Small and medium sized offices overwhelmingly reported that budget cuts and understaffing issues were their primary concerns. Large offices also echoed this, but their primary concerns were mental health issues, criminal issues within the jail and staff management issues related to overtime pay and benefits.
Two Examples: Newton County and Clarke County Sheriff's Offices
Sheriff Ezell Brown of Newton County and Sheriff Ira Edwards, Jr. of Clarke County then helped "flesh out" this "big picture" perspective of issues facing sheriffs' offices across the state. Sheriff Brown, a 35 year veteran of law enforcement discussed his office and the population that it serves. He highlighted some unique challenges that faced his full-service agency. For instance, the explosive growth in population of Newton County, especially within the last decade, coupled with increasing demands for health services, inclusive of mental health and emphasis on professional, yet personal service for individuals in the community and within the jail, hasn't been reflected in the allocation or appropriation of funds to provide such services at the level that is expected and in some cases, mandated. This fiscal reality doesn't exclusively impact his external constituents, but also his sworn and civilian staff.
Implications for Practice and Future Research Efforts
Dr. Billy R. Close, Assistant Professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida State University, served as the discussant for the roundtable. In this capacity, he highlighted some related implications that resulted from both the macro and micro perspectives offered by the moderator and Sheriffs Brown and Edwards.
These implications took one of two forms: practical implications or those suggestions for sheriff's to more effectively carry out their official duties in this time of resource scarcity and research implications for scholars who are interested in exploring in greater detail the managerial and administrative realities that face these constitutional officers.
Close concluded his remarks with a challenge to the research community, especially those researchers at public universities. He noted that more applied research efforts should be designed to address those practical problems that impact social service organizations like law enforcement agencies.