It was hard for Bill Hitchens and many others to believe the Georgia State Patrol post in Rincon is now 10 years old. It was even harder for Hitchens to believe that it came to be in Rincon at all.
Hitchens, his son, GSP Capt. Billy Hitchens, state Rep. Ann Purcell, state Sen. Jack Hill and others gathered at Post 42 Sunday to mark the 10th anniversary of the post and re-dedicate it.
“It was great for me to bring it to our home community,” he said. “It’s a great facility.”
Hitchens, an Effingham County native and former commissioner of the state Department of Public Safety, recalled when he was told the GSP post on Dean Forest Road was going to be moved.
“Back about 11 and a half years ago, I got a call from someone in Atlanta,” he said. “The post on Dean Forest Road was going to be moved. It’s ironic for me because I worked out there for 20 years and I live three miles down the road and I drove 22 miles a day to work.”
Purcell told Hitchens they could get the post to Effingham County. After he retired from the State Patrol, the opportunity presented itself. Purcell, in her first stint in the state House, and Hitchens got Hill involved.
“Ann was the catalyst for this,” Hitchens said.
There’s only one post in the state built with state money, he said, and that’s the one on Jekyll Island.
“Ann Purcell said she thought she could get some funding for this one and I assured her that would never happen,” Hitchens said.
“About three months later, I was reading the paper one morning and I saw where $500,000 was appropriated for a state patrol facility in Effingham County. Ann called and said, ‘I told you so.’”
Bringing the post to Effingham was a team effort, Purcell noted, including the efforts of the county commissioners.
“The county is part of the team in having the success here at this post,” she said. “Everyone plays a part here.”
The post also is home to a branch of the Department of Driver Services, which issues driver’s licenses, among other responsibilities.
“I want to thank the community for supporting our function here in the facility,” said DDS Commissioner Gregory Dozier, “which is to serve 2,700 to 3,200 people a month who come into Driver Services to protect their identities and to get their credentials to drive. It’s the first thing they have to do when they come to a community and relocate.
"Our values could not be shown if we didn’t have somewhere to show it. To show what we really think of our customers in this state.”
Capt. Hitchens, also an Effingham County native and Effingham County High School graduate, said if it wasn’t for Purcell, he wouldn’t have been there Sunday. Capt. Hitchens is commander of Troop I, which is made up of posts in Brunswick, Hinesville, Jekyll Island, Waycross and Rincon.
“I wasn’t assigned here,” he said, “but I grew up here. I think we have more of a community involvement with the post being here. That’s what we strive to do.”
The younger Hitchens also joked he remembered riding in his father’s GSP car, “back before they banned kids from riding in patrol cars with their parents.” His father remembers picking his son up after he had broken an arm or a leg, and his son slumped down in the seat “because he didn’t want to be seen.”
The younger Hitchens was an accounting major and got an education degree, surprising his dad when he opted for a career in the Georgia State Patrol.
The State Patrol’s mission is to help serve the local sheriff’s and police departments, Capt. Hitchens said. Troopers perform such duties as seat belt enforcement and the GSP’s Nighthawks target drivers suspected of driving under the influence.
“We try to do those things that make the county proud of us,” he said.
Said Col. Hitchens: “I’ve always said it’s a symbiotic relationship. The counties fund the patrol posts. The state derives no benefit from the fines and forfeitures. It keeps us out of the money business.”
Sgt. 1st Class Bruce DeLoach, the post commander and son of a law enforcement officer, has been leading Post 42 since this summer. There are 10 state troopers assigned to the post, which covers Bryan, Chatham and Effingham counties.
DeLoach thanked Effingham Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie and Chief Deputy Richard Bush for helping him “tremendously” since his arrival.
He also expressed his gratitude for Purcell’s assistance.
“She came in one day and flipped her calendar open and gave me dates for all the events that take place in Effingham County,” he said, “and I went to filling them out.”
Col. Hitchens said it may look like from the road that the post is empty, but that’s not the case. The State Patrol has had to endure budget cuts and several posts are understaffed. The radio dispatchers have been relocated to Brunswick.
The GSP used that as a chance to create a computerized dispatch system, he said.
“We’ve had to do some things with state money,” said Hitchens, who assists the state Department of Public Safety as a consultant.
“We took a $25 million cut to our budget a couple of years ago. It’s unfortunate we don’t have the number of people we had here at one time.”