Sheriff requests funding for three new positions

Published 7:09 pm Thursday, May 3, 2012

With calls for service and arrests increasing significantly and officers decreasing over the past several years, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office says its staff is overwhelmed and the office has asked for three new positions next year.
The Polk County Board of Commissioners will meet Monday, May 7 at 7 p.m., with county manager Ryan Whitson scheduled to present his recommended budget for fiscal year 2012-2013.
Whitson has denied all requests for new positions for next fiscal year, which will begin July 1.
Meanwhile, calls for service at the sheriff’s office have increased 34.69 percent and arrests have increased 17.15 percent since 2007, according to information from the county communications department and sheriff’s office.
As of March 4, officers had accumulated 4,384 comp-time hours, according to the sheriff’s office, most of which officers say will be impossible to take.
Capt. Randall Hodge said the sheriff’s office realizes that every department has increased work, but officers are overwhelmed, can’t use comp time and some are on call 24/7.
“We’re not asking for these positions just to inflate the personnel,” Hodge said. “We’re asking because they are a necessity to us right now.”
The only narcotics officer is particularly in need, officers said, because he has to get assistance from other agencies in order to do any work because for safety he cannot interview informants or make arrests alone. In addition, because he is the only narcotics detective, someone else has to do his work while he’s on vacation or has to use comp time.
The narcotics caseload doubled since 2010, officers said, and includes six marijuana grows and six meth labs busted since July 2011. Prior to 2011, no meth labs had been discovered in Polk County since 2007.
Many of the narcotic cases also have involved federal agencies in the last year, which means more work and time, officers said.
The sheriff’s office requested two new patrol positions and one narcotic detective for next year’s budget.
Officers say the number of positions has decreased slowly over the years, with the department having 15 positions in patrol and five investigators under Sheriff David Satterfield, whose term ended in 2006. Currently the sheriff’s office has 12 in patrol and three in investigations, according to sheriff’s office data.
With 12 patrol officers and Polk County’s population at approximately 20,000 residents, that equals 1,667 people per patrol officer.
The sheriff’s office has handled 1,152 investigation cases since 2007. Currently, 286 cases are open, with 105 new cases added since January, officers said.
Detectives investigate crimes such as breaking and entering, larceny, rapes, sexual assaults, drugs, fraud and murder.
Officers say two additional patrol positions would guarantee at least three officers on patrol at night and four officers at night when vacation or comp time is not needed or an officer is not transporting a mental health patient. Currently, the sheriff’s office has two to three officers patrolling at night depending on vacation/comp time or transports.
Officers also say that with more patrol officers, the fuel consumption should dramatically decrease because one patrol officer at night would no longer be responsible for covering half the county. One patrol officer may drive 200 miles per shift currently because they have so much ground to cover at night, officers said.
Hodge said the calls for service include calls to the communications department that required an officer to take some kind of actions. Those numbers do not include everyday calls to the sheriff’s office’s 828-894-3001 number. The arrest data also doesn’t include citations or arrests where the magistrate doesn’t give a bond, Hodge said.
“The numbers would probably double if we could track (everything),” Hodge said. “And we’re on track now to go well above the 2011 calls for 2012 and the same on arrests. We will probably have another 150 more arrests this year than we had last year.”
The jail has also been an issue lately, with the sheriff’s office arresting many more females and having to house them at other agencies because Polk’s jail is not equipped to house female inmates. The Polk County Jail has a capacity of 26 and is often over capacity, sheriff’s officers said, with inmates sleeping on mattresses on the floor. The sheriff’s office currently has females housed in Henderson, Buncombe and Rutherford county and males housed in Transylvania County and at the department of corrections in Raleigh, N.C.
Commissioners will receive the recommended budget Monday and normally have two work sessions in May for commissioners to discuss the budget.
Commissioners have already agreed for next year’s budget to include an additional $150,000 for the school system and to include a salary increase for employees. No tax increases have been recommended.

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