Underfunded Sheriff covers Smithville after police shutdown - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Underfunded Sheriff covers Smithville after police shutdown

SMITHVILLE, GA -

Lee County's Sheriff says his office needs more funding now that it's taken over law enforcement in Smithville.

The small town got rid of its entire police force in June.

Sheriff Rachals says his 26 road deputies are putting in a lot of overtime,  since they stepped up patrols in Smithville. Residents in Smithville said Thursday they are pleased with the job the deputies are doing.

Lee County Sheriff's Office Major Keith Houston patrols downtown Smithville.

"It's fairly quiet but most of the time it picks up late in the evening," says Houston. "And on weekends especially."

Smithville has a population of 575 people in its 2.5 square mile city area. Sheriff Reggie Rachals said the shutdown of their police department was without warning.

"Just do the best I can with the funds we got right now, because the budget crunch is there," says Rachals.

Officials say the number of service calls to his office has increased dramatically every year, and now adding Smithville's extra duty has the deputies stretched thin.  Rachals says the people in Smithville deserve the best protection he can offer.

"The funds are not being sent this way, for the Sheriff's office to be able to hire the proper amount of men and the proper amount of cars to put them out there to cover that city. Or the rest of the county as it needs to be covered."

The folks we talked to in Smithville said their city is usually quiet, but they are happy with the Sheriff's work so far.

"I think every town needs law enforcement.  I don't care how good a town it is, you need somebody to protect the people," says resident Steve Kelley.

Sheriff's deputies say they want to make sure Smithville stays quiet, so they want to be visible.

"The biggest problem we have is those people wanting to be out in the public drinking, in public," says Houston. "[And] there is an ordinance not allowing that. If they don't see us here full time, it gets carried away, and we have to come in and put a stop to it."

So the Sheriff's office tries to stay as visible as possible, letting Smithville know law enforcement has not ended because of budget cuts. But the Sheriff hopes his budget will be increased soon, as the work load increases.

Sheriff Rachals said county commissioners voted down his proposal to hire four more deputies and add four more cars. He says they will continue to cover Lee County as best they can, but he says they will need to grow along with the county's population soon.

The Lee County Sheriff's budget is a little more than $3.2 million.

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