The difference between the police department and the Sheriff's office

What makes America great?  In America, the people who write the laws are not the people who enforce them.  This principle is what makes us a country governed by the rule of law rather than the will of men.     A law that is not enforced is merely a paper barrier.  When just laws are passed, citizens depend on law enforcement to implement “equal justice under law,” as guaranteed to each citizen by the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Thankfully, this balance of power is also found within law enforcement in Georgia. 


According to Fayette County Sheriff Barry Babb, police departments, marshals, state troopers, constables, and county sheriffs all work together to enforce the law.  Sheriffs are elected directly by the voters of each county, yet their jurisdiction extends throughout the state.  If Sheriff Babb is in warm pursuit, his authority as a constitutional officer allows him to leave Fayette County and make an arrest in another jurisdiction in Georgia.  A Sheriff can be removed by the Governor or voted out by the electorate.  By law, the County Commissioners must fund the Sheriff’s office.  A locally-elected Sheriff does not answer to the Board of Commissioners. 


Many municipalities decided to fund their own police departments to help the Sheriff and provide enhanced protection for their citizens.   Tyrone, Peachtree City, and Fayetteville all fund separate police departments.  Police chiefs are accountable to their city councils and their jurisdiction does not extend outside of city limits.  The Police Chief is limited in hiring and firing police officers.  The Sheriff, however, because he is a constitutional officer, may hire or fire deputies at will.  Since Sheriff Barry Babb was sworn in as Fayette County’s Sheriff in January of 2013, Peachtree City has seen 3 different police chiefs, Fayetteville has had 3, and Tyrone 2. 


Not every county in Georgia has a police department, but every county has a Sheriff.  Bibb County in Macon and Richmond County in Augusta do not have police departments.  There are 13 counties in Georgia with police departments that serve the entire county. 


Glynn County in Brunswick, Georgia is one of the 13 counties with a police department.  In September of 2019, according to the Brunswick News, a Grand Jury called for a referendum to address the “ongoing culture of cover up, failure to supervise, abuse of power and lack of accountability in the administration of the Glynn County Police Department.”    


Republican Senator William Ligon of Brunswick, Republican Representative Don Hogan of St. Simons Island, and Democrat Representative Al Williams of Midway, teamed up to address the Grand Jury’s findings of corruption in the Glynn County Police Department.  When Republican William Ligon dropped SB 38 in the hopper to allow the General Assembly or the voters to eliminate the GCPD on January 29, 2020, little did he know that less than one month later, on Feb. 23, 2020, Ahmaud Arbery would be killed in a small city outside of Brunswick and the GCPD would make yet another misstep. 


According to the Valdosta Daily Times, Republican Representative Don Hogan, supporter of SB 38 in the Georgia House said that the GCPD “should have arrested the McMichaels at the scene, and they did not.”   For more information on this bipartisan legislation to address the corruption of the GCPD, see . 


Citizen lawmakers from both parties have come together to address police corruption.  If the GCPD is eliminated, the law enforcement functions and the property of the GCPD will revert to the locally-elected Sheriff of Glynn County.  The Glynn County Commissioners do not need to wait until the law is in effect or for the result of the referendum, they already have the power to eliminate the GCPD and transfer the property and the authority to the Sheriff of Glynn County.  But since they have not, state lawmakers are coming together so that checks and balances are in place to ensure our Constitutional guarantee of “Equal Justice Under Law.” 


By Mary Kay Bacallao