Sheriff J.B. King tells county commissioners that he's not allowed to split law enforcement computer data entry between the 911 Center and his own office.
PULASKI COUNTY, Mo. (Jan. 16, 2009) — Sheriff J.B. King has been asked to cut at least $125,000 out of his budget — an amount he said can only be accomplished by cuts in staff.
“Any cuts of this magnitude are going to involve employees and I don’t have anybody I can lose,” King said at Thursday morning’s county commission meeting.
King had complied with a request by the county commissioners to present a budget showing no increase over last year’s financial picture, but said there’s no way to control many of the costs in his budget.
Key parts of the problem, King said, include the inmate board cost to feed prisoners and the housing cost to pay other jails for overflow inmates. The Pulaski County Jail can hold only 28 inmates and the county typically has to find space for twice that number.
“We have no control over inmate board; whoever the court sends us is who we have to hold,” King said.
King said he’s trying to work out an arrangement with Pulaski County Prosecutor Deborah Hooper and the county judges to release people who have been arrested on drug charges until the suspected controlled substance is tested and verified as a real drug.
“We have had a few cases over the years where a guy was selling ground-up aspirin and selling it as meth. He was faking out his customers and the problem is he was also faking out the officers,” King said. “You cannot always depend on those field test kits to tell you what something is. I have had powdered milk come up as cocaine, so you have to wait for the lab.”
Commissioner Bill Farnham asked whether it’s possible to use electronic monitoring devices to release inmates to the community or whether that would create a risk that people would flee the area rather than show up in court.
Accused criminals fleeing Pulaski County probably won’t be a problem, King said.
“I guess the politically correct way to put this is we have a lot of frequent fliers who we know will come back time and time again, and we couldn’t run off if we tried,” King said.
Presiding Commissioner Bill Ransdall has previously asked King to justify why the sheriff’s department keeps its own dispatchers when the Pulaski County 911 Center handles after-hours dispatching for the Waynesville, Richland and Crocker police departments. Ransdall noted that the sheriff’s department had been allocated $101,500 for dispatching in 2008 and actually spent $107,000, which would be a large portion of the money Pulaski County must save to balance its budget.
“We talked to you before about if you did away with dispatch, what would the cost be to man the door and do other things the dispatchers do,” Ransdall said. “Tell me what you see if that would happen.”
“The answer is you can’t do it,” King said.
The key problem, King said, is the need to maintain the Missouri Uniform Law Enforcement System computer terminal. According to King, law enforcement agencies with a MULES terminal are required to have original hard copies of key documents such as warrants in the same location as the MULES terminal.
It’s not possible to have the 911 Center handle MULES entries after hours in one building while the sheriff’s department handles them between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. in another building, King said.
“I went to the extra step of calling the supervisor and the lieutenant called me and made perfectly clear that we cannot split it — end of story,” King said. “The basic reason for this is the prevention of lawsuits. You have a lot of personal information in there … When you are stopped roadside and we are told you have a warrant, they send what they call a 10-minute hit. You have to be able to respond within 10 minutes on whether that warrant is still valid or not. If we say a warrant is valid and they stick a person in jail and they sit there for two days and we come to get them and find out the warrant was withdrawn six months ago, we have a major problem.”
County Clerk Diana Linnenbringer asked if the sheriff’s department personnel could continue to do MULES entries while the 911 Center does dispatching. That would be possible, King said, but it wouldn’t save money because the county would still have to pay a person to handle MULES entries even though they wouldn’t be doing the dispatch work.
Transferring all of the MULES entries to the 911 Center would be possible, King said, although it would then create efficiency issues since hard copies of documents would then have to be hand-carried regularly a half-mile between the 911 Center and the courthouse. Responding to questions from Ransdall, King said 911 Director Michelle Graves had told him it would cost her office about $35,000 to add another staff member to do the work and the county would probably have to pay at least that much for the 911 Center to handle MULES entries.
“If you’re determined to do this, we need to go to her and ask for a figure,” King said.
King said his dispatchers handled 73,000 calls and 23,000 people coming to the front window last year, and said calls for service went up 13 percent from the previous year. The dispatchers provide considerable assistance to deputies on their way to incidents, he said.
“Our dispatcher is our first line of defense; everything that happens goes through him or her,” King said. “We have built up an extensive database in our Crimestar system of our frequent flyers. Before he even gets halfway there, the dispatcher can pull up an address and find out what the prior situations were.”
Ransdall asked whether that function could be transferred to 911 dispatchers.
“You’re saying 911 cannot do that?” Ransdall asked.
“They don’t have time to do it, and I’m not sure we can transfer those criminal records to them anyway,” King replied, describing details of confidential information that deputies use in cooperation with dispatchers to identify potential criminals with outstanding warrants.
An even more serious problem, King said, is that Pulaski County’s jailers have threatened to quit if dispatchers are eliminated. King noted that if the dispatcher position is eliminated, the jailer would sometimes be the only person left in the courthouse with 28 inmates. Dispatchers currently monitor the jailers on closed circuit cameras when they go into the jail cells; that wouldn’t be possible if the jailer were the only one in the building.
“We can’t leave the jailer by himself,” King said. “A practical reason is the jailers have already told me that if we leave them alone, they will walk, and then we have nobody.”
Jailers would also have serious difficulty if an inmate needs medical help but the front door to the jail is locked after hours.
“If we have a medical emergency, the jailer should be in the back rendering first aid, but if we don’t have a dispatcher up front, I don’t know how we’d have someone stop providing first aid to go up front and let them in,” King said.
After listening to King’s presentation, Farnham said there may be nowhere left to cut in the sheriff’s budget.
“I don’t know where we can actually ask him to axe. We’ve already cut him pretty significantly last year and the year before that,” Farnham said.
Ransdall noted that deputies are often sitting in the sheriff’s office at night. That’s correct, King said, but if deputies are in the office it’s usually because they’re doing paperwork and filing mandatory reports. Requiring a deputy to stay in the office would make it very difficult to respond to emergencies.
However, King assured the commissioners that he realized the depth of the county’s financial problems and said he realized staff cuts may be inevitable.
“I truly understand the pickle,” King said. “Will it work? Can we do it? Yes, but it will greatly decrease the efficiency … I guess it all boils down to you all control the money.”
Newly elected Western District Commissioner Rick Zweerink asked if it’s possible to make the staff cuts, at least on a trial basis.
“Can you try it this way? I don’t know if we have an option, unless maybe reduce the number of deputies,” Zweerink. “I don’t like this, and I’m sure you don’t like it at all, either.”
Asked how many deputies would be cut, Ransdall estimated that coming up with $125,000 in savings would require cutting three to four deputies.
“If you have deputies working for $26,000 to $28,000, you would add on about a third of their costs for benefits,” Ransdall said.
While rural areas near Waynesville and St. Robert can call for backup from those cities’ police departments and that often can be done near Richland, Crocker and Dixon, King said cutting deputies would cause serious problems handling crime and major crashes in the more isolated rural parts of Pulaski County since the state patrol is seriously shortstaffed in Pulaski County.
Ransdall wasn’t happy to hear that report.
“I think it’s a shame when the county has to subsidize the Missouri State Highway Patrol when the last governor said we have a half-million-dollar surplus,” Ransdall said.
While King said there’s no way to balance his budget without major staff cuts, he said he’s working hard to cut costs where he can. King said it should be possible to drop prisoner meals down to $92,000 based on experience and due to the new food supplier no charging for snacks, and said the department’s chief deputy, a skilled auto mechanic, has done a good job of keeping cars running even when they have 200,000 miles or more.
“Maj. (Tom) Cristoffer has been doing an excellent job of working on the vehicles and preventing problems in advance. But just as sure as I say that, gas will go to $4 a gallon or worse,” King said.
One expected source of new money may not happen, however. The Missouri Legislature passed a new law last year adding special fees to court papers that creates a special statewide fund to supplement rural sheriff’s deputy salaries. Responding to questions from Ransdall, King said the commissioners of St. Charles County and St. Louis County have filed a lawsuit saying the proceeds should remain within their own county rather than being used to supplement rural sheriff’s deputy pay.
That’s not good news for Pulaski County, King said.
“Based on the previous projections of the sheriffs’ association, I don’t think there is any way this bill will work without the donor counties, so to speak, being donor counties,” King said.