Fifteen 2014 Dodge Chargers took to the streets this fall as part of a replacement effort for the department’s aging fleet. Five of those sedans were designated for Criminal Investigations Division, with the remainder utilized in the Uniform Patrol Division.
“We put five of the new Dodges in investigations because the cars we had were just shot. I mean, they would barely get us from point A to point B. … We’ve got 10 that are on the road in patrol division,” Sheriff Clark Millsap said. “... I can take you out here right now and show you some cars that’s got [230,000], 240,000 miles on them that, although they still function, some of them are getting to the point that they could be a possible danger to somebody. You can only replace parts so often on a car and we were just very fortunate.”
Funding for the fleet came out of the 2014 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. In May the county closed on a $30 million general obligation sales tax bond in advance of the 2014 SPLOST, which provided the necessary money for certain projects such as the BCSO cars, Bartow County Chief Financial Officer Jo Taylor said.
“It was one of those things, thanks to the citizens of Bartow County, former Commissioner [Clarence] Brown and Administrator [Steve] Bradley doing SPLOST for us, and then Commissioner [Steve] Taylor came in and he jumped on it with both feet and we are rocking and rolling,” Millsap said. “In the SPLOST project, there was $2 million dedicated over a six-year period to the sheriff’s office to replace our fleet. ... Commissioner Taylor and Administrator [Peter] Olson they figured out a way we could go ahead and start ordering cars and make it fall into place. Man, I can’t thank them enough for that.”
According to Taylor, five of the Chargers were purchased for $24,108 each and the remaining 10 cost $23,853 each.
Millsap said the department has begun preparations for new vehicles in 2014.
The Chargers are not the only new vehicles taking to county roads. The Bartow County Sheriff’s Office received a Governor’s Office of High Safety grant for a Highway Enforcement of Aggressive Traffic unit.
Funding was provided for three vehicles and three officers — patrol division brass selected Sgt. Michael Burlison and deputies Christopher O’Bryant and Nathan Gifford through an application process. The $246,100 covers the cost of the unit for two years, with the county shouldering no financial responsibility.
“At the end of that two-year period, [there will be a] re-evaluation, and we could be receiving full funds again for the third and fourth year. … This is a way for us to make the roads here in Bartow County safer than they’ve ever been,” Millsap said.
Painted a smoky blue, the H.E.A.T. Dodge Chargers stand out from the routine patrol vehicles. Primarily, H.E.A.T focuses on reducing impaired driving crashes, excessive speeding, increasing seat belt usage and educating the public on traffic safety matters.
According to a GOHS press release, H.E.A.T. programs — there are 18 units across the state — are located based on impaired driving and speeding data, and serve jurisdictions with the highest rates of these crash and deaths in Georgia.
In addition, all H.E.A.T. personnel must have or receive training in DUI SFST, Drugs That Impair, LIDAR, RADAR and Advanced Traffic Law. One of the officers in the unit should be certified as a Child Passenger Safety Technician.
“These three guys that are going to be out here are dedicated employees, they’re dedicated to what they do, and they’re looking forward to slowing people down,” Millsap said. “… We are going to be targeting speeding. We are doing to be targeting DUI. We are going to be targeting seat belts, child restraints. I mean, you read everywhere — fortunately, not that many occurrences here in Bartow County — but the accidents involving texting, talking on the telephone, people getting injured because they’re not wearing their seat belt, children getting hurt because they’re not properly restrained in their car seats.
“Speeding is outrageous. You know as well as I do traveling these roads that you see people flying up and down the road all the time, so we’re working on that and that’s going to be part of the H.E.A.T. grant.”
For motorists, Millsap stressed that the unit is not looking to “fill a quota.”
“It’s not all about numbers. It’s not all about quantity of citations, it’s about quality citations,” he said. “What I mean by that is, if a warning needed to be written, we write warnings, but if a citation needs to be written, we’ll write citations. It’s not a quota thing. I want everybody to understand that — we’re not going to be out here trying fill numbers as far as citations go because a warning counts the same as a citation.”
For more information on the Bartow County Sheriff’s Office, visit bartow.org or find them on Facebook. To learn more about the GOHS’s H.E.A.T. program, visit http://www.gahighwaysafety.org/campaigns/heat/.