From left to right: Deputy Mike Williams, Sheriff Tim Burkkhalter and Sergeant James Womack
“Every missing person is someone’s child.”- Community United Effort (CUE)
Members of the Floyd County Sheriff’s Community Posse repeat this statement each and every day as they dedicate their time, resources and heart to locating missing persons in Northwest Georgia and beyond.
If that statement is surprising and you were not aware that an entity like the Sheriff’s Posse existed in Floyd County, you are not alone. However, the selfless good deeds that take place among the group are worth sharing.
Through working with the CUE, a 501(c)(3) tax exempt non-profit organization and Center for Missing Persons, the Sheriff’s Community Posse lends their expertise and man power to local and out-of-state agencies for help in search and rescue missions, disaster or flood relief and more.
From trekking through swamps in South Florida and exploring the vast terrains in Texas to hiking mountains in North Carolina, the men and women who combine their forces to make up this true-grit team are nothing short of amazing.
Floyd County Sheriff Tim Burkhalter created the Search and Rescue Sheriff’s Posse when he was elected in 2004 as a bridge agency between the Sheriff’s Office and civilians.
“If we come across a person missing in Floyd County, we do not necessarily need to send out a call asking for help because we don’t have enough sworn officers to pull them from the line of duty,” explains Sheriff Burkhalter. “So, by having the Sheriff’s Posse, we work as a bridge between the civilians and the sworn- with the supervision of a sworn officer- to be able to pull together resources when searching for a missing person.”
Even though the need for a search and rescue team was abundantly clear, the start of the Floyd County Sheriff’s Posse was not met with open arms.
“Initially when we began the posse, several of the law enforcement agencies around here kind of looked down on the idea,” says Sheriff Burkhalter. “They did not realize how much of a help the Sheriff’s Posse could be in our community and surrounding counties.”
As most would initially agree, the group quickly proved skeptics wrong when the CUE began reaching out and enlisting their help for out-of-state missions.
“Our Search and Rescue guys have been called all over the Southeastern United States,” explains Sergeant James Womack of the Floyd County Police Department. Because of their work in the field, the team has won several awards, one being the Keeper of the Flame Award presented to the team in 2013 and again in 2016.
According to the Center for Security Policy, the Keeper of the Flame Award recognizes those groups who devote their time to the promotion and protection of freedom through the practice of ‘Peace Through Strength,’ an old phrase commonly used by many leaders in the world that suggests having a strong sense of law can help preserve the piece.
For the many places who do not have a search and rescue team or anyone available to go out on search missions, the Sheriff’s Posse comes in to play. “It wasn’t that Floyd County had a particular need for a search and rescue team, but the need was apparent all over the Southeast,” says Sergeant Womack.
“A lot of the agencies do not have the tools or numbers we have to get out and search the top of a mountain to find someone who is lost, whether it is day or night,” adds Sheriff Burkhalter. “That is what makes the posse so impactful. We have people who are willing to use their own resources and time to help the people of our community and beyond.”
Sergeant Womack, Sheriff Burkhalter and Deputy Mike Williams, along with their posse volunteer counterparts work their everyday jobs, and some even work part time jobs. Still, they dedicate their free time to searching for missing people with the posse. Expanding from what started out as a small rescue unit consisting of around 10 people has now grown to 100 men and women from Floyd and surrounding counties. Each of these people on the Sheriff’s Posse are 100 percent volunteer only.
“We give them training and we give them uniforms, but they provide their own equipment,” says Sheriff Burkhalter. “We train a whole lot of people with good intentions who are ready to get out there when calls overwhelm the city, county or state police.”
The equipment that the posse uses during searches ranges from all-terrain vehicles (ATV) and trucks, to a 28-foot camper, helicopters and jet skis. They also host a dive team and an equestrian team that leads searches in areas requiring the use of alternative methods of transportation.
As you can see, the team is multifaceted, which helps when searching for a missing person.
According to Sheriff Burkhalter, the Sheriff’s Posse is 100 percent self-sustained (besides the trailer they use to carry all of their materials around the searches, as the county insures it). “We received the Hummer through a grant, Suzuki gifted us an ATV and all of our other items belong to our members,” explains Sheriff Burkhalter. “That’s what this is all about. This unit runs because of the people who care about doing something so much that they do it for free.”
Members of the Sheriff’s Community Posse don’t just fill a need to give back to their communities. They enjoy the work, as well. In 2018, the Sheriff’s Community Posse conducted 44 searches and events around the U.S.
“I remember a few years back, the Paulding County Sheriff called Sheriff Burkhalter because they were in a flood crisis,” recalls Sergeant Womack. “I think they were holding around 18 inches of water; it was bad. The Sheriff called me, and around 10 of the Sheriff’s Posse traveled down to Paulding County with boats, jet skis and more to help with the flood relief. Several of us hit the river at 9 p.m. that night and ended up finding the people who were stranded. After that, we stayed for around two days helping to find people who went missing during the flood.”
The Sheriff’s Posse has also traveled to Adairsville during a time when tornadoes ripped through and destroyed much of the city. The rescue team stayed for around two weeks as they helped with disaster relief, clean up and more.
“We actually got Snickers (one of the Posse’s search and rescue hounds) during a big search in Florida,” says Deputy Williams. “They found out that we did not have a dog, so they gifted him to us. Snickers is a huge part of our team and has helped us out tremendously during missions.”
After several years of success, the Floyd County Sheriff’s Community Posse has received public praise for all of the goods deeds they are spreading in and around our communities. In fact, they work closely with Floyd Medical Center and Redmond Regional Medical Center in the training of first responders, as well as gifting them materials they use during response events (jump bags). According to Deputy Williams, this spike in involvement is all thanks to Sheriff Burkhalter.
“The Posse first got started in the late 80s, but we did not get the support that we have gotten recently since Sheriff Burkhalter has been in office,” says Deputy Williams. “He has been behind us 100 percent, and we are so thankful for that.”
The next time you see one of these heroes walking around Rome, be sure to thank them for all that they do, and the sacrifices they make to keep their communities safe.
To donate to the Floyd County Search and Rescue Sheriff’s Community Posse, contact Deputy Mike Williams or Sheriff Tim Burkhalter. Checks can be made payable to the Floyd County Community Posse. All monetary donations can be deducted on your taxes.