A local shortage of law enforcement officers, reflective of a nationwide problem, means the three-way partnership of the Statesboro-Bulloch County Crime Suppression Team is being placed on hiatus.
Each agency — the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office, the Statesboro Police Department and the Georgia Southern University Police Department — has experienced the crunch of being short-staffed and are focusing efforts on crime in their own jurisdictions for now, said Bulloch County Sheriff Noel Brown.
“The Crime Suppression Team (as a partnership) is suspended for now,” he said, adding that the problem arose before he took office in January.
The CST, headed by the sheriff’s office, included officers from the GS and Statesboro police departments and worked as a unit to combat crime in high-traffic areas, including near and around the GS campus.
It was formed in 2014 when former Sheriff Lynn Anderson and former Statesboro Public Safety Director Wendell Turner signed a “memorandum of understanding” that combined the sheriff’s Drug Suppression Team, the sheriff’s Targeted Enforcement Patrol and the police department’s Crime Suppression Unit. Fully staffed, the CST consisted of sheriff’s investigators and sheriff’s deputies, including a K9, and four police officers.
The new unit was formed “to put unceasing pressure on criminals of all types who prey on the innocent citizens of Statesboro-Bulloch County,” according to a CST news release issued shortly after its formation in 2014.
However, while Brown and others hope to see the unit restored, attention must be focused on other areas at this time, he said.
Statesboro police Deputy Chief Rob Bryan agrees.
“We all met with Noel after he got in office, and all of us looked at manpower concerns,” he said. “We made a mutual agreement that we need to focus on our core missions.”
GS police Chief Laura McCullough was unavailable for comment, but Jan Bond, associate vice president of the GS Office of Marketing and Communications, said, “Georgia Southern University made a decision to redirect our officers from the Crime Suppression Team to efforts closer to the university campus. This decision was made after consulting with the University System of Georgia and our partners at the city and county law enforcement agencies.”
Then, and now
Bryan said that while there were originally four slots for Statesboro police officers on the CST, in December, there was only one officer in place on the team, due to a shortage in officers with the department.
The Statesboro Police Department is currently short six officers, with additional temporary vacancies due to two officers attending police academy and five in field training, he said.
Bond didn’t disclose how many vacancies are currently open with GS police but said the current focus of the department is student safety.
“We are committed to providing a safe environment for our students, faculty, staff and visitors,” she said. “Focusing the efforts of our officers on activity and crime reduction on and near campus is a high priority. We continue to work closely with the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office and the Statesboro Police Department as we collaborate to make our community safe for everyone.”
Bryan said that he hopes to revisit the CST partnership when vacancies are filled.
The sheriff’s office still has its team in place, with limitations, Brown said.
“We still have a deputy assigned daily to the CST, but staffing is down,” he said. “We have to get our numbers back up.”
The core CST unit remains in place, he said: Capt. Jason Kearney, Investigator Jim Riggs, Investigator Marcus Nesmith, Investigator Mark Guarino, Sgt. Kirk McGlamery, Investigator Ben Lienhard, Investigator Mac Edwards, and K9 partners Max and Gismo.
The sheriff’s office is currently short by four deputies, and Brown said that he hopes to add two deputy positions this year during budget discussions.
When the departments get back on track and fill vacancies, “we will revisit this to see if we can bring (the CST) back to (its original purpose),” he said.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.