Washington, Georgia is going lawless. The town of 4,300 people, famous as the last meeting place of the Confederate cabinet and for its vintage Gone with the Wind advertisement, has disbanded its police force. The Wilkes County (population ~10,000) Sheriff’s Department will take over in a “money-saving move” according to Mayor Ames Barnett, who cast the deciding vote. Washington Police Chief Theodosia Glen was “not surprised” that she and her 14 police officers are out of a job but angry that the July 17 decision was made effective July 18.
For reasons I’ll never entirely understand, I have attended a couple meetings of the Washington Town Council. Though everyone I met was charming, the town’s political culture was less than genial. That such a sweeping measure managed to pass through a contentious body shows just how dire the financial situation must be.
Of the 159 counties, Wilkes is 127th largest. Roughly a fifth of counties in the state are smaller. Washington is the 186th largest incorporated city in a state of 573. If a city in the top third of population wants to save by eliminating its police force, how difficult must it be for other small towns to balance a budget on shrinking populations and a dwindling tax base?