The First Responder Spotlight Series features law enforcement, firefighters, EMS, and other emergency personnel who make it their business to serve our communities, often in ways we never see, each and every day.
The series is sponsored by McKeithen’s True Value Hardware in Statesboro.
Chief Dale Kirkland was nominated by McKeithen’s for his dedication to the community and for all the ways he goes above and beyond what is expected and required of him in his role.
Claxton Police Chief Dale Kirkland is a well-known personality in the community. He and his wife, Kristin, have strong ties to Evans County where they raise their two sons. She works at Optim in Reidsville and he has been in law enforcement for almost two decades, joining his brother in the dedication to public service. Kirkland graduated from the academy in 2003 and worked for the Evans County Sheriff’s Office, the Tattnall County Sheriff’s Office, and the Richmond Hill Police Department before he landed back in Evans County as the chief in Hagan. He was there for four years before his current home as Chief of the Claxton Police Department.
“I’m really fortunate to have worked where I did and for the people that I did. It really groomed me for the position I’m in today,” Kirkland said. “I thank them for where I’m at today because the experience I gained was very important and invaluable.”
Working as the chief in Claxton had been a longtime goal of Kirkland’s and the department has changed tremendously since he took the helm in early 2019.
While Kirkland came to the city with several things in mind, he credits the assistance of the mayor and council for his ability to accomplish so much in just two budget years. Of particular notability, the department has advanced technologically and streamlined its equipment for efficiency. Each officer is equipped with one body camera and three cameras on each vehicle – two dash cameras and an in-car camera that faces the back seat. Kirkland says the investment was sizable, but it protects both the citizens and the officers at all times in an era of constant calls for transparency and accountability.
“It’s more than just ‘I’m recording you.’ Cameras have so many different uses. Officers are able to go back and review that footage, especially high stress incidents,” Kirkland said in his interview.
He also shared that each officer has the top equipment necessary to do their jobs, assist the public, and protect themselves. They have new protective vests, which expire every five years, and have a rolling schedule for replacement to plan for budgeting needs and grant applications.
In terms of grants, CPD participates in the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, a state networking opportunity that has opened the door for a plethora of grants and endless information sharing. The Claxton Police Department has also updated internal policies on everything from expectations and decorum to recordkeeping and reports, in line with the standards put forth by the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police, which Kirkland tailored to fit the needs of the agency.
Much of that likely contributes to Claxton’s insulation from a retention problem so many agencies are facing around the state and nation. That, and the compensation Claxton officers are offered, something Kirkland proudly touts as he routinely lobbies for increased benefits for his officers.
“We have very highly trained officers, very professional officers, and I do believe that a police officer should be compensated for the job that they do,” Kirkland said. But that comes with a responsibility for the officers as well.
Every officer in the agency has at least double the number of training hours required on an annual basis by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards & Training Council and, when possible, officers are able to request specific classes that interest and apply to them – a morale booster that only improves the department.
As is the case anywhere, there’s always room for improvement and Kirkland says he will continue to push his officers to better themselves. He would also like to have more officers employed, to include one more per day shift cycle and an in-house drug investigator. He would also like to further the partnership with the school system and add an additional resource officer to have one at each school.
With what they have, the plans to grow, and a new headquarters underway across the street, he can’t be everywhere at once, which is why we asked Kirkland how he stays hands on enough to know what’s happening in the department without micromanaging officers trying to do their jobs.
“You hire people that you can trust to do the job. I can’t explain how important it is for when I’m at home at night or if I’m gone to training to know that the officers I have hired here are doing their jobs properly. If you do that, there’s no need to micromanage.”
Kirkland sometimes misses patrolling, being a K9 handler, and working on the streets the way he did in his earlier days, but he finds what he does to be rewarding in a number of ways he wouldn’t find in any other job.
“Knowing the people that you serve. Whether it’s being able to help the people you’ve known forever or getting to meet somebody new that’s just a new addition to the town, it’s just amazing. We’re not robots, we do have feelings, and we do enjoy that side of the job. And we do have a good bit of public support here and we appreciate that more than anything. They take care of us quite a bit.”