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COLUMN: Insight into sheriff’s department

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By LEE CHESTNUT
Guest Columnist

As your elected sheriff, I want the community to be aware of how the sheriff’s department is involved in situations affecting the county. As I said from the start of my term, I want the public to feel comfortable talking with me, especially about concerns or complaints. There has been a lot of coverage about the new jail and animal-control officer in recent months, and I would like to take the time to explain my position on these matters.

During the 2011 county-council budget meeting, members of the council made a very tough decision to no longer provide funds for an animal-control officer. At that time, there was $21,000 available in the county budget for that purpose. The money was going to be placed in a general fund and dispersed. It would not carry over into the next year for the possibility of hiring an animal-control officer at a later time. Unlike personal finances, where money can carry over after the first of the year or you pay toward items at your discretion, laws and standards are very strict as to what government money can be used for and how it can be appropriated. I requested that the commissioners consider allocating the $21,000 to the sheriff’s department to purchase a four-wheel-drive vehicle. The department was in need of a vehicle to drive during inclement weather. I also believed the deputies could use the vehicle to help transport animals from calls received in the county, when necessary, until a better solution for animal control was reached.

When I spoke of handling calls in the county, my focus was on the unincorporated areas of the county, or those outside of the official city limits. The cities of Cannelton and Tell City have full-time law-enforcement agencies, who I do not want to speak for, but feel certain would agree that having an animal-control officer would be beneficial. However, in our current situation, all of our departments are handling the calls in our designated areas in the best way we possibly can.

The county will soon have a new jail. Many people have worked extremely hard to put together the most cost-effective and efficient building possible, with hopes it will serve this community for decades to come. This project began before I took office, but has required much of my time the past two years. There are many problems with our current jail, including the lack of necessary staff. The new building will need the same amount of staff as the current jail, with the very likely potential that the numbers in our jail population will triple, at some point. As with any government-run office, we are required to follow state and federal laws and standards. We must be in compliance with building codes and staffing, or risk severe liability penalties.

Another exciting project within the sheriff’s department is a new case-management system the deputies may be using, hopefully by next year. The system will equip the deputies with all of the necessary tools to complete case reports from their cars. Case reports can be time-consuming to complete. Once the new system is up and running, the deputies will not have to be at the department, sitting behind a desk doing paperwork. Being able to complete the necessary reports in the cars will keep the deputies on the roads more than they have ever been. It will save the department the cost of fuel and the wasted time of deputies having to travel to the department anytime a report needs to be completed. I do not anticipate asking the council to appropriate money from the general fund to pay for this, but instead plan to obtain grants and donations and use funds generated through the sheriff’s office to fund the total cost of the project.

When I was elected to be Perry County sheriff, I had plans to implement changes and improve the efficiency of the department. I continue to work toward this goal. For the most part, I believe the changes I have made or have been working to make have pleased the people of the county. If I am mistaken, please contact me at (812) 547-2441. If you do not want to call, come by my office. I will speak with you and attempt to clear up any questions or concerns you may have.

Thank you for your support. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to serve Perry County.