Trevor Blacksmith

Trevor Blacksmith, Ethan Roach and Britton McCann take their oaths from Sheriff Gary Gulledge to become Paulding County’s newest sheriff’s deputies following their recent graduation from the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training basic mandate training program.

About one in 10 Paulding County Sheriff’s Office job vacancies are going unfilled despite starting pay which can approach $40,000.

The unfilled jobs recently included 18 openings for patrol deputies and seven openings for jailers out of a combined 260 total positions in the two areas, said Sgt. Ashley Henson of the sheriff’s office.

They are jobs for which someone at least 18 years old with a high school diploma or GED, no experience and no criminal record can earn a starting salary of about $36,000 for a jailer and almost $40,000 for a deputy.

Sheriff Gary Gulledge said the vacancies are not hindering his department from fully investigating crimes and patrolling the county’s 290 square miles outside the cities.

“We want everyone to know that we are actively seeking qualified, motivated men and women to fill our ranks as deputies and detention officers,” he said.

Gulledge, who began as a jailer with the Paulding sheriff’s office in 1990, said he believed some reasons he is seeing jobs in his agency go unfilled include a “nationwide trend in the decline of individuals wanting to work in law enforcement” and “low pay and lack of retirement benefits.”

The sheriff also said good economic conditions in recent years have made other types of jobs more plentiful, as well as “the fact that there are ... higher paying jobs out there.”

Henson said Paulding is becoming more competitive for officer pay but still lags behind neighboring counties like Cobb.

Cobb County Police Department advertises starting pay at $40,000 for an officer with a high school diploma, and increases the pay if more advanced academic degrees are earned. Marietta pays $37,000 for officers with less than two years of experience and a high school diploma, according to their web sites.

The typical retirement benefits for a law enforcement officer also are not generous compared to many other professions. They also do not encourage officers to retire early from a job in which they may be unable in later years to meet the job’s physical readiness demands, Henson said.

However, Paulding offers better benefits than many neighboring West Georgia counties, Henson said.

Gulledge said his department has worked “hand in hand” with the Paulding County Board of Commissioners to gain enough funding to increase starting pay and get better retirement options for its deputies.

He also said the sheriff’s office “will not lower our standards just to fill positions.”

“That is one thing that we will remain steadfast on,” Gulledge said.

The Paulding sheriff’s office recently reported 18 vacancies for deputies out of 222 total positions, and seven vacancies for jailers out of 37 total positions.

The county website directly states no experience is required for the jailer positions which maintain security at the county detention center. It does not specify experience requirements for deputy positions, whose responsibilities include patrolling the county to enforce state and county laws and serving civil papers and warrants.

However, it does have a lengthy list of prerequisites required before making application.

Applicants must be at least 18 years old, have a valid Georgia driver’s license, and be a graduate of an accredited high school or earn a GED.

Some requirements are relatively standard for any employer, such as passing a background check that checks an applicant’s credit rating, references and criminal history.

They also are expected to “be of good moral character,” including a relatively clean criminal record with no felony or family violence convictions, no misdemeanor charges or convictions in the last five years.

They also cannot currently be on probation, cannot have “excessive” citations for such acts as speeding, and have no drug use in the last two years, Henson said.

Successful applicants also must pass psychological and physical exams, including a drug screening. Finally, they must pass a physical fitness test that includes completion of a one-mile run and a variety of calisthenics.

Chief Deputy Col. Chad Hunton recently said the sheriff’s office was seeing “a lot of applicants” but “through our assessment process we’re washing them out” as candidates for street and jail positions.

“This is a career that is not for everybody,” Hunton said.

“We’ve got people applying but they’re not meeting the standards that we require of them,” he said. “We’re continuing to push and fight through that.”

He said the office did a physical fitness assessment in recent weeks to find candidates for jailer positions, which is typically where deputies begin their Paulding County careers.

“Through our assessment process we’re washing them out,” Hunton said. “We’re also washing them out through our jail training program.”

Gulledge said such incidents as the shooting death of DeKalb County Police Officer Edgar Flores and wounding of a K-9 officer after a Dec. 13 traffic stop in Decatur may discourage some in Georgia from considering law enforcement as a career.

However, he said most of those willing to enter the law enforcement profession know the job has challenges.

“First and foremost our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and coworkers of the recently fallen DeKalb County Police officer and the injured canine,” Gulledge said. “This type of senseless violence toward law enforcement officers has to stop.”

“At the end of the day we all know the risks and dangers that come with this line of work,” he said. “God bless those who wear the uniform to keep us safe."

Henson said there are few similar jobs in which the employee faces such a daily risk of injury, or worse.

“Not many people get ready every day for a job where they can get killed,” he said.

Six Georgia officers have died by gunfire in the line of duty in two years, though none in Paulding County.

The last area officer killed was Polk County Police Detective Kristen Hearne, who was shot and killed as she responded to reports of a stolen vehicle in September 2017.

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