By Ed Brock
Clayton County Sheriff's Office Deputy Paco Pieras stands out from his fellow deputies these days.
He is the first to don the new uniform that all deputies in the department will be wearing by the end of July. Sheriff Victor Hill is replacing all of the old tan and brown uniforms with dark navy uniforms that resemble police uniforms.
But there shouldn't be any confusion by the public between his deputies and police, Hill said.
"Our job out their is the same," Hill said.
The new uniforms won't cost extra because the department will gradually phase them in as part of its regular allowance for new uniforms. The county is supposed to dispense the next allowance at the end of the fiscal year on July 31.
Pieras' uniform is a test uniform, Hill said.
In the same way Hill plans to replace the department's brown cars that have yellow decals with black cars with gold decals.
"Any cars we'll order from now on will be black and we'll put the decals on them," Hill said.
The resemblance between his deputies' new uniforms and police uniforms is not unintentional, Hill said.
"This saves money in the long run because when consolidation (of the Clayton County Police Department into the Sheriff's Office) happens all we have to do is change the badge and change the patches," Hill said.
Consolidation of the two departments is a long-term goal of Hill's and he believes it will happen in two to four years despite opposition from Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Eldrin Bell.
"At the end of the day all Bell represents is one vote and the commission as you see it today is not the commission as you'll see it in two or three years," Hill said.
Bell said previously that the Sheriff's Office is not a first responding agency and it won't get the budget support to become one. He said a police force already exists in the county.
Hill also would need three votes on the Board of Commissioners to gain consolidation.
But along with keeping an eye toward consolidation, Hill said he had two other, more important reasons for changing the color of his deputies' uniforms. Number one, the Sheriff's Office needs a new image because it is going in a new direction.
Number two is that having two law enforcement agencies with different-colored uniforms represents a "childish, gang-like mentality."
Jonesboro resident Tamicka McCloud said she's not too sure about the change.
"I kind of like the uniforms the way they are ... to distinguish between the two," McCloud said.