Welcome aboard for one more session in the latest news and clues concerning the office of the Pulaski County Sheriff. We have been chopping at the criminal trees and some bark is falling to the ground, but for the most part, it has been fairly quiet of late. And we do like “quiet” times. There are a few things I would love to be able to talk about but the time is just not right. Hopefully in the near future we will have very good news to pass around.
In one respect the past week was a disaster. Both of our jail transport vans broke down on inmate transfers. We had to place a patrol car on the back of a wrecker and send the car to the 230 mile mark on Interstate 44 so the transport crew would have a vehicle to complete their mission. The wrecker then brought the van back and dropped it at the transmission shop. We hope to have the transmission fixed by next Wednesday.
The second van was more kind to us: it decided to break down in front of the Dixon jail so it was a much easier problem to solve. The van is currently in the shop but we do not have a diagnosis yet of the problem, so at this time we are looking at an upcoming law day and both vans are out of service. Hopefully the vans are not absent for a long period of time.
In other car news our former Chief Deputy Hondo Wooten walked into my office Saturday afternoon and handed me the car title and keys to a used Ford Crown Victoria police package vehicle. He even parked the vehicle in front of the office; we did not have to go pick it up somewhere. The car was a total gift and a total surprise. While it is an older vehicle it only has 119,500 miles and is in excellent condition. A word to Hondo: “thank you, and trust me, big boy, we will be able to use this very generous gift.” The scramble by our deputies who have the high-mileage patrol vehicles to obtain this car as their new vehicle has already started.
On a more serious note, I have been looking at the dispatch situation for our office. As most of you will remember, the 2009 budget forced me to cut 1.5 dispatch employee positions from the payroll. While we were able to do this by simply failing to fill vacant positions, we had operated without those 1.5 employees for some time before the budget was finalized.
If I were talking about a construction project, I might say that the concrete base is cracking and the structure is in danger of collapse. Since we are considering the dispatch unit, I will say the base use of four employees to work on a 24/7/365 basis for a long period of time has cracked the foundation of the dispatch unit. Overtime hours have already accumulated and we are now coming up on the traditional vacation season. One full-time dispatcher on vacation will leave only three others to work the 24/7/365 schedule. I do not believe that you will need a genius-level IQ to determine that this will not work for long. Overtime hours will explode and the county will go into debt to pay them off.
The only saving grace is that I have one deputy with the required certifications needed to work the MULES system. But when I move her to the dispatch unit, then I short the road unit. Since the road unit also lost two full-time positions and we still have one deputy out on long-term sick leave, moving the deputy to dispatch only makes an already bad road situation even worse. But in this case it is the only rabbit I have left to pull from the hat to solve the crisis.
If you look at this problem from another view the dispatch issues are very much like an iceberg: the biggest part is out of sight below the water. Four people on a 24/7/365 schedule soon burn out. The job of the dispatcher is very intense and it just does not stop during the 8- or 12-hour shift at hand. The pressure is then intensified by the knowledge that they are only making $18,000-something per year and even our rookie dispatchers could most likely find a much higher paying job with better benefits somewhere else. I know for a fact that other agencies are already after our senior dispatchers.
This knowledge leads to other very bad thoughts. What if we lost both senior dispatchers within a short period of time? The answer would probably be that the dispatch unit would collapse. We would have nobody capable of performing the needed supervision or the training of a new operator. We would be forced to transfer all of our operations to the 911 Communications Center.
I do understand that a lot of people think this would be a good thing if it happened. I have nothing against the communications center and its employees but I am still firmly of the opinion that we must keep the dispatch and MULES operation at the courthouse. The overall problem here would be that if our dispatch unit would collapse we would have no choice in the matter. The bottom line is that we need far more budget support for our dispatch unit if we are to survive.
Along those same lines I attended a meeting on Fort Leonard Wood this past week and we were flatly told that this summer should mark the highest population numbers on Fort Wood that we have had in a very long time. All three major component units, the engineers, the chemical troops and the MPs, will all be back from deployment overseas. That, coupled with the usual summer increase in basic training and the normal National Guard training deployments here, will add up to big numbers. Hopefully the bigger population numbers will mean more local sales tax collected and give us the ability to amend the budget to add more dispatch employees.
In other, news our calls for service/case number count stands at 1,141 on Feb. 22. Last year on Feb. 17 our count stood at 1,142. So we are just a hair behind the pace of last year and I hope that trend continues.
I have reached the end of the column and I will again ask all to drive with care and to keep your actions legal. We do not have room for you in the jail and we do not want your business. But as I have said before if you just have to come visit our jail you will find the light in on.