Welcome aboard on a wet Sunday morning. I cannot believe that this is number 51 in the column series for 2009. Where has the year gone? Once again we had a busy week and I suspect next week will not get any better for us. I feel the urge to once again speak out on some issues, so beware, I may be on the soapbox for this column.
We lost an important and complex criminal case in a circuit court trial this past week. It was the type of case, an armed robbery that cried out for the investigative services of a full-time detective. A road deputy simply cannot devote the time required to a major case because he is always being sent on the next call and just cannot get back to the business of the major case. This is nothing new: As a member of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, I had the same problem. Anytime you had a hot lead to go after, you could lay odds that a two- or three-car head-on crash was going to occur and take over your time.
Once again, the need for a law enforcement sales tax comes to my mind. If we had a one-half cent tax devoted to the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department, we could raise the road deputy numbers to around 18 to 20 people and provide a four-man detective unit along with a four-man narcotics unit. We could also provide the cars and equipment these deputies needed. At that time we would STOP being a reactive department and become a proactive department. This would give us the chance to run the bad guys out of Pulaski County because the heat would be on them. We would actually have a chance to do our jobs in the proper fashion.
If we also added a half-cent complete build-the-jail tax for about 12 or 13 years, we could buy the land needed, build the 140-bed jail, equip the jail, and build a countywide animal shelter on the back side of the property. At the end of the 12 or so years, we could roll back the half-cent to a quarter-cent to provide the staffing levels for the jail and animal shelter. It would be a pleasure to act with a proper budget instead of dodging the bankruptcy issues we now face.
I expect someone will object to the reference to bankruptcy. In my opinion, when you cannot provide the services and equipment necessary for the elected officials of the county, not just the sheriff, to function properly, then you are on the verge of bankruptcy. When you have a massive debt from the last budget year hanging over your shoulder and cannot pay on the principal, then you are on the verge of bankruptcy. The only cure for that is to raise more money. Read my lips: I mean raise taxes. The only people who can make that decision are the people who pay the taxes. We cut services the last several years and we have lots of complaints to show for those cuts. We cannot cut any further or reduce other services. Do you want proper law enforcement and many fewer drug dealers in the county or do you want what you have now? It’s your decision: all I can do is point out the need for action.
If we took the action above, what would we have at the end of the term of action? We would have a new paid-for jail and justice center. We would have adequate staff levels with proper vehicles and other equipment. We would have a narcotic team and a detective team. We would have an animal shelter and animal control officers. Everything would be paid for except the year-to-year salary levels and the payment tax for that would be in place. Also, we would have a three-quarters-of-one-cent sales tax that would not go away. As a bonus we would no longer spend $350,000 of our tax dollars per year to house our inmates in other jails. It’s your decision.
Our calls for service/case number count stands at 10,180 this morning, Dec. 13, and I am starting to think we may break last year’s record high number. I would rather we did not but that is not up to me. As I spoke of the manpower numbers above, I was also thinking of our daily grind of action. Our troops are getting tired and we need some more troops to help spread the load around. With the budget issues we face this year, I suspect that will not happen.
As we approach the Christmas season, I thought I might throw out a few reminders of the things you should do this time of the year. Do not leave your gifts in plain sight inside the car; put them in the trunk. Pack a shovel and some blankets or warm coats, gloves, and a flashlight in the car. There are some real neat LED flashlights on the market now and the batteries last forever in them. Carry some food or snacks. I carry MRE’s in my patrol car. Yes I know, not the best food in the world but at 3 a.m. after a day of no food, they taste pretty good. Also, put some salt and maybe some kitty litter for traction on ice. Still got the first aid kit in the trunk?
At home, do not overload the electric circuits with the Christmas spirit. You do not need a home visit from our friends in the fire service. Keep the Christmas tree well watered to reduce the fire hazard. Try to make sure all the presents under the tree are not visible from outside to deny those nasty burglars good information on easy pickings. Watch out for “black ice” on the patio floor, sidewalks, and the roads. There is nothing quite like a patch of black ice to ruin your Christmas trip. Did you change the smoke alarm battery back in October? If not, then get busy with the new battery.
Please drive with care this holiday season. We seem to be having a ton of wrecks of late. The papers are full of crash details. Smokey the Bear used to say only you can prevent forest fires but he really meant only you can prevent wrecks. Please keep your actions legal for we do not need you in the jail at Christmas. Our jailhouse Christmas spirit seems to be lacking this year. Sort of a dull and dreary place if you know what I mean. But you will be happy to know the jail lights work just fine.