When US Congressman Buddy Carter held a Town Hall meeting earlier this fall, he fielded questions from local residents on a variety of topics.
One attendee, Lt. Jose Ramirez, a Rincon resident and Commander of Operations for the Rincon Police Department, was there to provide security for the event, but also as a constituent and during the meeting's question and answer session, he voiced concerns over state and federal laws designed to protect the safety of law enforcement officers.
“Over the course of my 17-year-career in law enforcement, I have been assaulted several times by criminal suspects resisting arrest,” Ramirez said. “And I've had six major surgeries on my shoulder to repair injuries sustained as a result. I feel very strongly that our laws don't do a good job of protecting police officers and that current sentencing guidelines are very lenient with little or no deterrent effect. Many people arrested and charged with obstruction and/or aggravated assault think it's a big joke.”
Congressman Carter acknowledged that officer safety is a major problem across the US due to current social and political unrest and promised to look into Ramirez' concerns.
During the 2017 legislative session, Georgia lawmakers passed SB 160, also known as the “Back the Badge Act of 2017”. This law increases mandatory minimum prison penalties for assault or battery against public safety officers and for repeat offenses of resisting or obstructing officers. It also imposes new fines, which fund payments to families of officers who die in the line of duty and creates a new black and blue license tag to honor the law enforcement community.”
Officer Ramirez, age 40, is bilingual and has several close family members who live in Puerto Rico. He started his career with the Savannah Chatham Metropolitan Police Department (SCMPD) in 2000 and won several awards and commendations during his five and one-half year tenure there. After attaining the rank of Detective, Ramirez was assigned to the department's criminal gang unit where he worked to expose gang activity throughout the city. He then joined The Georgia Gang Investigators Association (GGIA) which had been formed to combat an uptick in gang violence across the state.
“Back then, we had a real problem with teens forming these neighborhood gangs but we had an even bigger political problem,” Ramirez said. “Community leaders acknowledged the gang activity in their neighborhoods but some political leaders tried to suppress and downplay it because they were worried about repercussions against the city's tourism industry. Their excuse was that because these local kids didn't share national affiliations, they weren't “real” gangs. But the truth was – we were dealing with the same criminal mentality and behaviors regardless of what they called themselves.”
In 2007, Lt. Ramirez joined the Rincon Police Department, rising through the ranks to his current position and continued his work with the GGIA, where he now serves as Vice President.
“Our situation in Effingham is not like it is in larger cities, but we are close enough to Savannah and the Interstate Highway System that our force comes into contact with gang members from time to time,” he said. “Because of my training, I've been able to share insights with other members of our 22-person force here in Rincon.”
Ramirez is a member of the Rincon First Baptist Church. Working with Lt. Dan Flood of the SCMPD, he formed C.O.P.S. (Christian Officers Protecting & Serving), a group of Christian Police Officers who meet at the church twice a month to provide support, encouragement, and accountability through nondenominational Bible study.
“My faith is very important to me,” Ramirez said. “Being a police officer has never been an easy job, but in today's world, with some people literally putting a target on our backs, it can be very hard on an officer's family. My faith in God keeps me strong.”
Ramirez and his high school sweetheart, Carrie, have been married 19 years and have two children, Jackson, age 18, and Tristan, age 15. A recent high school graduate, Jackson, is considering following in his father's footsteps and becoming a police officer.
“I'd be very happy to see Jackson become a police officer,” Ramirez said. “I teach new recruits at the Regional Police Academy in Savannah and the first thing I ask new students is: 'Why do you want to become a police officer?' If it's any reason other than the desire to help people and make a difference in their lives, I tell them they may be in it for the wrong reason.”
For Jose Ramirez, service doesn't stop when the uniform comes off. He is deeply committed to his community and has been involved in a number of projects designed to support those in need. When close friend and co-worker, Cpl. Dennis Badger was fighting stage-four colon cancer, Ramirez organized a motorcycle run that raised $16,000 to help the family with mounting medical expenses. He has also been involved in collecting funds and supplies for tornado victims across Georgia and Alabama.
“Just like every other profession out there, you can find people in law enforcement who shouldn't be there,” Ramirez said. “But I am very proud of the people I serve with and we put our lives on the line everyday to keep everyone in our community safe.”