Rick Gossett says the campaign to be sheriff came to him.
Gossett, the current Bloomingdale police chief, said he intended to serve six more years in that position before retiring. But some Effingham County residents coaxed him to run for sheriff.
“They convinced me we needed a change in the sheriff’s department,” he said. “And they convinced me we can get this done.
“At the end of the next four years, which sheriff will have us closer to where we want to be?” he said.
The biggest change to make, Gossett said at a meet the candidate Thursday night, was to put people first.
Gossett spent 21 years in the Army and began his law enforcement career in 1991 with the Hinesville Police Department. He was with the Effingham County Sheriff’s Department for seven years and he also spent a year as assistant county administrator in Effingham. Gossett was also chief of operations for a 150-man international police force in Kosovo for a year.
He has been chief of the Bloomingdale Police Department since July 2003.
There were 31 deputies in the patrol division when he was with the sheriff’s department from 1993-2000, Gossett said. Since then, the county has grown by 20,000 people but the number deputies in the patrol division hasn’t kept pace. Meanwhile, the department’s budget has grown from $2.2 million a year to $5.75 million a year.
“The pay is not enough to keep and retain good people,” he said. “We’ll spend money on people and not equipment. We have to get them the benefits and the pay so you can recruit and attract the best qualified officers.
“We’re going to get good people on the street and get good detectives,” he said.
Gossett added there are some good people currently working in the sheriff’s department and some are “hanging on by their teeth and they are looking for a change.”
Gossett said he will not ask for capital outlay money in his first year if he is elected. His officers in Bloomingdale drive patrol cruisers that have plenty of miles on them and they complain, but he said he makes up for it with their pay and benefits.
“If you pay a guy well enough and take care of his family, he’ll drive a rickshaw,” he said. “You have to use your equipment and get the maximum out of it, and quit buying so much junk.”
Gossett also said he will not have a chief deputy but instead will have department heads who will answer to him.
“Why am I going to pay them to do my job for me?” he said.
That salary could be used to put an additional two or three officers on the street, Gossett said. He added he will bolster the patrol division and add qualified investigators.
“You have to have qualified people who can put an investigation together,” he said.
He added he will forego such things as drug dogs and a SWAT team if it means being able to put more deputies on the roads.
“You can’t keep enough tailbones in the (patrol cruiser) seats to use that equipment,” he said.
Gossett said the pay for Bloomingdale’s officers “blows (Effingham’s) out of the water.”
“I’m going to think about people first,” he said. “You’ve got to pay them. You’ve got to make sure they are being treated fairly.
“It’s not just the money,” he said. “Everyone wants to be on a level playing field. I tell what you need done and tell you what the standards are.”
He also plans on establishing a precinct on Highway 80 in the southern end of the county, with the current sheriff department’s headquarters also serving as a northern precinct. Each precinct will have a precinct commander and residents won’t have to come to Springfield to pick up accident or incident reports or file complaints, he said.
Gossett said he rewrote the chase policy for the Bloomingdale Police and there is a matrix for officers to follow when to chase and when not to chase.
“We chase, but it is limited. If there’s a guy who you’re going to give a ticket to and he decides to run, that is not the time to chase,” he said. “Unless there is a clear-cut danger, you have a limited chase. If it looks like it’s going to be a danger to the public, you call it off.”
Gossett also plans on establishing a citizens police academy if elected.
“I can’t do anything without the citizens,” he said. “If I get elected, you’ll have a better sheriff’s department and one you’ll be proud of and one you’ll get a fair shake from.
“Managers do things right,” Gossett said. “But leaders do the right things.”
If he is elected over incumbent Jimmy McDuffie, Gossett said he would serve eight years and retire.
“I didn’t want to be retired and have someone ask me to do something for my community that I was trained to do and didn’t do it,” he said.
On the Web: www.electgossett.com.