July 12, 2012 - Atlanta, Ga: Candidate for Fulton County Sheriff Richard Lankford talks during a forum at the Democratic Party of Georgia Headquarters Thursday evening in Atlanta, Ga., July 12, 2012.  JASON GETZ / JGETZ@AJC.COM

Issues Within the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department

1. The Fulton County Sheriff’s Department is the second largest budget expense that our taxpayers must fund annually. With a budget in excess of 100 million dollars, the Sheriff’s Department’s budget accounts for over 40% of the county’s general fund expenditures. This means that at least .40 cents out of every property tax dollar in the general fund is turned over to the Sheriff’s department.
 
2. With the on-going problems at the Fulton County Jail, and over the last eleven years, the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department has cost the taxpayers over one billion dollars in capital improvements, salaries and operational expenses. Further costs to the taxpayers have included the number of successful lawsuits against the Sheriff’s department that Fulton County Has been forced to settle and pay to the plaintiffs in these cases with taxpayer dollars. The present administration in the Sheriff’s Department has now asked for an additional twenty million dollars to hire new deputy sheriffs to staff the ailing Fulton County Jail.
 
3. The jail, however, already employs detention officers, at a lower salary, to supplement the staff who are deputy sheriffs. The better and more financially feasible plan would be to hire a full staff of detention officers for the jail and move all deputy sheriff’s, other than those required by law to administrate the jail, to the Courts Division, the Service Division and A Community Policing Division, which would give more law enforcement presence to our neighborhoods and communities, which are in need of greater security and crime prevention.
 
4. The Fulton County courthouse is yet in need of a complete security assessment and the implementation of a master security plan that will provide maximum security with a minimum amount of inconvenience. Our judges, courthouse employees, and the general public deserve an atmosphere of significant protection, when having to conduct business in our county facilities.
 
5. The Fulton County Sheriff’s Reserve, once numbered close to four-hundred officers and recognized as the second largest law enforcement reserve organization America, needs to be re-implemented and utilized to address the staffing needs within the Sheriff’s Office. I built this organization and while in its’ highest numbers, this professional reserve saved Fulton County taxpayers twelve million dollars annually, in salaries, benefits and equipment. All of these costs were absorbed by the reserve officers themselves. They staffed the jail, the courthouse and the service division. They also provided security and traffic control for over three-hundred charitable events each year.
 
6. The Fulton County Jail continues to experience overcrowding problems, due to systematic changes in the criminal justice procedures for arrest and detention. Criminal violators that are charged with state offenses are now being brought directly to Fulton’s jail from every municipality within Fulton County. No longer do these municipalities hold preliminary or probable cause hearings to determine whether or not sufficient evidence is present to justify these violators being bound over into a state custody facility, which, of course, is the Fulton County Jail. The constitutional legality of this new process must be re-visited, if our Fulton County taxpayers are ever to be relieved of the continuous costs associated with an overcrowded jail. Judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and arresting officers can work significantly closer to reduce the number of inmates presently being housed in this facility. Building a bigger and more costly jail is not the immediate solution to this problem.
 
7. The present Sheriff of Fulton County is a retired agent from the FBI. The second in command of the Sheriff’s Office is also a retired agent from the FBI and was the Sheriff’s supervisor, when they were both still employed with this agency. Other top command officers in the Sheriff’s office have been brought in from agencies, other than the Sheriff’s Office, by-passing and overlooking qualified and experienced deputy sheriffs, who are more than capable of serving as key administrators within this agency. The lack of inner departmental consideration for promotions and positions has created low morale, employee absenteeism, and very mediocre work habits. Seniority, experience and training have ceased to become meaningful factors, when employees are considered for promotions, appointments or positional transfers. A fairer, unbiased, non-political and more equitable system for employees must be implemented for the benefit of all concerned.
 
8. Employee Rights Violations:

  • A young deputy sheriff was told to choose between the Sheriff’s Department and taking care of his seriously ill wife. He sought only for a temporary change in his work hours. He was forced to resign his position because his request for change was denied.
  • A female deputy was seen crying at work. She was ordered to take a psychological evaluation. The psychologist placed in her personnel folder a very damaging assessment. She was classified as a borderline alcoholic and drug abuser, when, in fact, she had never indulged in alcohol or drugs at any time during her entire life.
  • A male supervising deputy sheriff asked a female deputy for her telephone number. He was charged with sexual harassment. The female officer voluntarily withdrew her complaint and the case was resolved. Two years later, the case was re-visited by the present administration and the male officer was told that because of this previous incident, he could either retire or be terminated. Not wanting his work record to be damaged, he retires. But his records sent to the State of Georgia stated that this officer “retired in lieu of termination”, which damaged the officer’s ability to seek employment at another law enforcement agency.
  • A deputy sheriff chose to support a political opponent of the present Sheriff, which he had the constitutional right to do on his own time. He was maliciously fired. The Fulton County personnel board ordered the Sheriff to put this deputy back to work. The Sheriff refused and took the issue to The Superior Court. The Superior Court judge ordered that this deputy be put back to work. The Sheriff was forced to comply with the judge’s order. The deputy, however, was harassed to the point where he finally decided to retire and remove himself from further intimidation.

Many more cases, such as those listed above, have created serious personal issues among the members of the Sheriff’s Department.

Richard B. Lankford, Sr.