BOB JAMES SAYS HE RE-ENTERED THE PROFESSION HE LOVES AFTER HIS FAMILY BUSINESS WAS VICTIMIZED BY CON ARTISTS. NOW HE HAS A NEW FIGHT ON HIS HANDS: CANCER.
By Lon McNeil
Bob James’ first job in law enforcement was at age 19 with the Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office. He started working in the jail and then moved to the street as a road deputy.
After three years, James left to go to work in the family business, James Equipment and Supply Co., where he stayed for the next 25 years. When his father decided to shut down the business because of changes in the industry and medical concerns, things went bad fast.
“Dad lost almost three and a half million dollars to a couple of con artists,” said James. “We went to court and it took everything my brother and I had to fight it and win it, but we did.”
After that five-year legal battle, James decided, at the age of 51, to return to what he enjoyed doing most and signed on with the Albany Police Department (APD) for almost two years before moving to the Dougherty County Police (DCP).
Now, at age 57 and battling cancer, he’s Dougherty County’s police officer of the year.
Right away, James began work on establishing a viable K-9 unit within the department. He had been trying to get dogs on the APD force back in the 1970s. James said during the 1960s Civil Rights protests, there were some bad experiences with poorly trained dogs and officers using their own dogs from home that generated a number of lawsuits against the city, so his bosses were reluctant to consider it.
“Nobody would even talk to us about it at all,” said James. More than 20 years later, upon his return to the force, that attitude was still there to a degree. James was told he could try to get the K-9 unit up and running, but that he would have to use his own money to do it. James went work.
Soon another officer, Sgt. Lee Reynolds, also an advocate for a professionally trained K-9 unit, teamed up with James. The fundraising to build a facility and purchase and train the dogs was done solely by word of mouth to businesses and individuals. The two were not allowed to hold any fundraising events as DCP officers.
The men raised about $60,000 in cash and materials. There was even some steel support material from the old James Equipment and Supply Co. used in the construction. Other funds were used to purchase two German shepherd police dogs and send James and Reynolds to training in North Carolina.
James says he believes so strongly in the K-9 program because dogs can do things humans cannot do, noting, “Dogs have no prejudices.”
James said their keen senses and focus on a task are valuable resources to have in many situations.
“They can smell, track and even apprehend people faster than us,” he said. “We’ve got more than 35 pounds of equipment on us with gun belts and boots and stuff.”
James said officers can be looking for someone in a wooded area and have no clue whether they are in a tree or under a bush, but the dog can hear and see them much easier. James says his department’s dogs have saved an abundant amount of money and time locating suspects, evidence and even lost people. They tracked and located a missing Alzheimer’s patient, which saved thousands of dollars in having multiple shifts out, along with volunteers’ time.
“Ten minutes after the captain had the dogs on the scene, they picked up the track. Dogs are extremely valuable if used properly,” said James. But he is quick to point out that they are approachable and not dangerous unless given an attack command. “They are loveable and can be petted. Kids love them,” he said.
The two DCP dogs have been on the job for about a year. James said having only the two provides K-9 services for just half the shifts, so an effort is underway to raise the needed funds to add and train two more.
“We’re forming a committee of local individuals to help raise the money,” said James. To put a dog on the street and train an officer specifically for each one takes between $15,000 and $17,000 per dog. The goal is to have the additional dogs onboard in a year.
James’ dog is Goliath. He was the dog responsible for recently finding a weapon tossed out on the by-pass after a shooting involving a deputy with the Albany-Dougherty Drug Unit in which a suspect was killed.
“The GBI wanted to shut down the bypass for 24 hours and bring out 15 to 20 officers the next day to start searching by hand to try and find the pistol,” said James. James was proud to report that Goliath found the gun under a big clump of grass in the dark and just sat down beside it. “They are trained to find something that is new to the area.”
James says he believes that his officer-of-the-year honor is a direct result of the contribution the K-9 unit has made.
“It’s a huge respect given to me by my peers,” he said. “The people on the list were some of the better quality officers we have on the Police Department. What this shows is that they believe that the K-9 unit has been beneficial above and beyond expectations.”
This honor comes at a point in James’ life that has seen a new challenge, as he just started radiation treatments for colon cancer that he will be taking five days a week for nine weeks.
“It does kick my rear end about two or three in the afternoon. You either give in to it or you fight it.” James says he can’t dwell on it, and he is just taking things a day at a time. His attention now is on adding two dogs to bring the K-9 unit up to full capacity.
A special bank account has been established for donations. James said anyone interested in helping out can contribute directly to the DCPD/K-9 Unit.
Written by Lon McNeil. Mr. McNeil is an Albany independent marketing consultant. Find him online at AlbanyOnPoint.