Kirkland Wants Change for Tattnall County Sheriff’s Office

Dale Kirkland is running for Sheriff of Tattnall County because he wants to bring change to the office.

Kirkland’s roots in Tattnall County date back to his school days when he moved to Cobbtown as a kindergartener. With the exception of a year in Florida while in grade school, he made his way through the Tattnall County School System while living in Glennville. When he and Kristin Kirkland married, they moved to Evans County and lived there for several years before moving back to Tattnall with their two sons.

Kirkland started his law enforcement career in 2003 and has spent the better part of his career in Evans and Tattnall counties. He began working as a deputy for the Evans County Sheriff’s Office, worked for the Tattnall County Sheriff’s Office under Quinton Rush – as a deputy and a K9/narcotics investigator, and has served as the Chief of Police in Claxton since 2018.

Why Are You Running for Sheriff Now?

“I’m running for Sheriff now because it’s always been my goal to run for Sheriff in Tattnall County, that was always the end game for my career but I see the need. I’ve fielded several phone calls from members of the community about running for Sheriff in 2020 and I didn’t. I saw the need continue, I decided to run. The doors were open, different things fell in place, and I honestly believe that doors were opened by God to run this time.”

What are the needs?

“There’s this big misconception that Tattnall County has no crime, but they do and a lot of it is being swept under the rug and not being addressed. There’s a very big need for proactive law enforcement in Tattnall County as a whole. Narcotics are out of control, that’s a growing concern for the community for sure. And then of course the prisons as well, with the contraband that’s coming to the prisons. There’s no effective patrolling whatsoever to slow this contraband issue down.”

An issue in nearly every law enforcement agency is pay, which can sometimes lead to inadequate staffing. In Claxton, you’ve been a very vocal advocate for higher pay for officers. Do the pay and staffing issues exist in Tattnall County and, if so, what are your plans to address those issues?

“They absolutely need better pay. They’re one of the lower paid agencies in the area. Their turnover rate has been tremendous and some of it has to do with pay and some of it has to do with working conditions. We have a waiting list here and have had a waiting list ever since we took over here in Claxton six years ago and that’s because we provide a work environment that everyone can enjoy and be proud of.  They make a decent salary, we pay the benefits, we pay POAB retirement, we provide a take home car, uniforms. It’s really all about what you can do for the employee and how you take care of your employees. Someone may not make the best salary in the world but if you give them an environment to work in that they’re proud of and they want to stay in, they’ll take that little bit less money and they’re happy to be there.”

How do you address concerns that running a Sheriff’s Office may be different from running a police department, namely due to the absence of a jail and a courthouse?

“Obviously there is a Sheriff’s school that you have to go through with the Georgia Sheriff’s Association to learn those types of things. And, everybody has to start somewhere. I wasn’t always a police chief, before I took over as police chief, I was a narcotics investigator. Obviously I learned the ropes. There are some quality employees in the Tattnall County Sheriff’s Office right now that will remain employed, contrary to rumors that have been spread, that know how to run the place and they will stay in place. Being a sheriff is a broad array of things, not just courthouse and jail but the enforcement side of things and it’s all about who you put into places.”

How would you take what you’ve learned as a police chief and apply that in terms of advocating for your agency with county commissioners while also balancing your responsibility to taxpayers?

“You definitely don’t want to jump in and get in a battle with your commissioners and say what you’re going to do, ‘I’m going to do this’ and ‘I’m going to do that,.’ It’s better to sit down and come up with a reasonable solution and have a goal in mind that is beneficial to everyone, including the taxpayer. 

But one of the most important things that we’ve been able to accomplish here is our school resource officer program. We’ve been able to accomplish having a school resource officer here in all three schools, which is unheard of for a small agency, really. But it comes with the partnership that we share with the Board of Education. We’re able to provide the safety and security for the school, but we’re also able to build relationships with the children, to show them that we’re real people and you can trust us.

Through those relationships that we’ve built, we’ve been able to solve numerous crimes and gather wonderful information during that process. We actually became the regional coordinator for the Georgia School Resource Officer Alliance, which provides training and other resources, like single-officer responses to threats at schools and things like that. 

And that’s another thing I do as well. I attend the training with my officers because I’m not one that sits in the office. I work and I’m out on the front lines with them answering calls, doing traffic stops, wherever the need may be at that point in time. That’s important that you receive the same training that your officers do because, especially with the schools.”

Does the Sheriff’s Office have the equipment and resources it needs? Is there room for improvement?

“There is always room for improvement because anywhere if you buy a computer today, in three months, it’s obsolete with the advancements in technology. I do understand that they have body cameras, which is important to me, but there’s always room for improvement.

But there again, it goes back to what’s beneficial for the taxpayer and the county as well because you can’t burden the whole county for the Sheriff’s Office needs when you have departments that need things, too.”

Kirkland cited his success in writing grants in Claxton as groundwork that would prepare him to do the same in Tattnall, alleviating some of the burden on local taxpayers. “We’ve already done several thousand dollars worth of grants this year in Claxton and that’s absolutely something I would bring to Tattnall.” 

Are there concentrated or dedicated units that you would hope to implement, subject to staffing and funding?

“Yes, absolutely. There is a two man traffic team right now and they’ve called it the Drug Suppression Team, but it’s a two man traffic team and they go out and stop cars and run traffic. But there needs to be an in-house narcotics team inside there that is separate from traffic. Working traffic and working narcotics are two completely opposite things that don’t go hand in hand. Yes, you can get narcotics on traffic stops, but to truly investigate narcotics, that’s not a part of working traffic.

I would immediately remove the office from the GBI SRDEO Task Force and have an in-house drug investigator. I don’t need a drug investigator tied up in Dublin or Brunswick or somewhere else. I need them in Tattnall County.”

Are there task forces or inter-agency teams you would like to be a part of?

“I would love to share some sort of agreement or services with some neighboring counties and obviously the cities that are in there. There’s definitely some things that you can do to try to ease that burden a little bit by having a presence out on the streets. Just like if you could start a joint traffic team that goes out and enforces traffic since Tattnall has a high fatality rate, there’s bad crashes in Tattnall all the time, you could have a joint unit that goes out and enforces DUIs and so on. You may not need but two from the Sheriff’s Office because you have others from other agencies.”

On the criticism of working for another agency and running for Sheriff…

“Really it’s no different than working somewhere else and somebody wanting to complete a goal in their career. You can’t really compare law enforcement to anything else, but if you are working somewhere for a department and you have an opportunity to go be an investigator somewhere else, it would be crazy to turn that down. And anybody that wants to hold somebody back and doesn’t want to see them advance themselves, then shame on them.”

On Safety

“I can promise the citizens that we’ll do our absolute best to keep them safe and patrol the community. My number one goal, after being fully staffed, is to provide school resource officers in every school. I’ll sit down with the Board of Education and try to get school resource officers in place.” Kirkland said

Why do you think you’re the best candidate?

“I’m the best candidate because I’m going to be available to the people. We’re going to be a proactive sheriff’s office that’s visible, we’re not going to be reactive. We’re not going to be out at every ribbon cutting. Yes, we will be seen, but if something’s going on and you open a small business, we may not be able to make it. It doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate you but there may be things happening that need the attention of the Sheriff’s Office. 

We’re going to be available and more transparent to the community on every level, whether it be simply picking up the phone and calling and being able to speak with someone – my phone number is on every card I hand out. That’s the biggest complaint I hear – we can’t get ahold of somebody, we don’t get phone calls back, I never see deputies. And that’s just not going to be the case.”

Follow Kirkland’s campaign on social media.

Kirkland will appear on the Republican ballot on May 21st. Early voting runs through May 17th.

Jessica Szilagyi

Jessica Szilagyi is Publisher of TGV News. She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement and corrections. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia.

Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta and co-creator of of the Peabody Award-nominated podcast 'Prison Town.'

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