Sheriff responds further to county’s concerns about department

Published 3:19 pm Monday, June 9, 2008

I wanted to take a few moments of your time to respond to some of the comments and articles recently in the Tryon Daily Bulletin regarding some issues surrounding the Polk County Sheriff&squo;s Office.

Most all of you have read coverage of the reported dispute between this office and the Polk County Board of Commissioners regarding the accident of Deputy Gary Cox and opinions of the vehicle Deputy Cox was operating. My argument is very simple.&bsp; We still have a fleet of vehicles that have some vehicles with over 100,000 miles on them. As sheriff, I have to do what I can to help each of my officers have the safest equipment possible.&bsp; At the same time, I must do what I can to save taxpayer money, much as our board of commissioners strives to do. We must all work together to implement a schedule of replacing vehicles so that the Polk County Sheriff&squo;s Office has vehicles with less mileage on them. This is not an issue that is only affected by the party affiliation of our representatives, or even the current elected sheriff. By implementing and continuing a program of vehicle replacement, we will decrease the overall mileage of our fleet, thus creating less of a need for vehicle maintenance, and saving our tax dollars. We appreciate and applaud that our board will be purchasing 3 new vehicles for us in the upcoming budget year.

We also want to look at purchasing less expensive vehicles for use as patrol cars. For years our office has relied on the Ford Crown Victoria as our vehicle of choice. As of late, Dodge has now introduced a police package Charger that has been purchased for use in the N.C. Highway Patrol, Rutherford County Sheriff&squo;s Office, and Henderson County Sheriff&squo;s Office. This vehicle claims to have better fuel mileage and a less expensive cost than the Crown Victoria. Can we support or refute these claims? Absolutely not. Our most effective means of this is to purchase one Dodge Charger and compare its performance to the Crown Victoria. If we see that this change benefits the PCSO, we will have proof to show when we request to purchase additional vehicles.&bsp; Again, this is an attempt to make the most of our taxpayers&squo; money.

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Much has also been made of our fuel line this year. When our office prepared our current budget, we had expended, on average, $4,000 per month on fuel, and the average cost at the pumps was $2.50 a gallon. Of course, we are not the only ones affected by an increase of $1.50 a gallon, and our budget for the upcoming year is based on a price of $4.00 per gallon. Many have their opinions of why our fuel expense is so high. We do have many officers on the road today, thus increasing the amount of fuel we consume daily. Many times our officers, much as Deputy Cox was doing, respond &dquo;emergency traffic&dquo; to an incident, driving at a higher speed, and thus increasing the amount of fuel used.

We also have seen an increase of female inmate transports out of the county. Some of you may not be aware that the Polk County Jail cannot house female inmates. When we take a female into custody, we must make arrangements for them to be housed at another facility, and pay these facilities for housing them. In the last week we have made four trips to Raleigh with female inmates.&bsp; This, too, creates a large amount of fuel use. I would hope that we can work with our board of commissioners to one day construct a new detention center that can house male and female inmates, or explore the possibility of adding on to our existing facility so that we do not spend such money on housing females out-of-county and having to transport them back and forth for housing, court appearances, etc.

There has also been concern over the advertised 78 percent turnover rate at our office. Again, speculations abound as to why so many people have left employment here. Many of those who are no longer employed here left our agency to take better positions ‐ not only in law enforcement, but in other areas. We appreciate our board taking steps to raise the salaries of our employees in an attempt to stabilize the departure rate of those taking better positions. In terms of other departures (or resignations) from this office, quite honestly sometimes people just don&squo;t work out, and decisions are made by those people, and sometimes by the sheriff, to make a change that will be in the best interest of the PCSO, and Polk County. We appreciate the efforts and contributions of each of those who have worked with this agency.

Finally I want to address the area regarding the number of wrecks our officers have been involved in. Several of these incidents involved deer impacts.&bsp; Our county has moved quickly to install brush guards on our vehicles so that those that are involved in such accidents suffer smaller amounts of damage.&bsp; Three incidents (1/4/07, 4/15/07, and 5/16/08) occurred while officers were responding &dquo;emergency traffic&dquo; to incidents. Of course, at higher rates of speed the chances increase of being involved in such accidents. &bsp;

Thomas Paine wrote &dquo;these are the times that try men&squo;s souls.&bsp; The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.&dquo; Rather than continue this public and private questioning of the activities and actions of this department, let us choose to support the men and women of this department, who each have taken an oath to serve and protect the citizens of Polk County. We, the Polk County Sheriff&squo;s Office, pledge to work in cooperation with the board of commissioners to identify areas of concern within our agency, and jointly develop plans of action to address each of these areas. We also continue our commitment to you our citizens, the taxpayers of Polk County, to provide to you the highest and most professional level of service possible. Please drop by our office if I or my staff can be of any assistance to you.

‐ Chris M. Abril, Sheriff, Polk County