Sheriff J.B. King
Welcome aboard one more time for another smashing column full of something. Actually, today the column will be a bit different in nature because of the topic I have picked as the main course for today. This past week I was talking to one of our new deputies and explaining the major differences between a city police force such as his former department and a sheriff’s office as his new employer. I could not help but notice that he was somewhat surprised by some of the things I brought up and I quickly decided if he was surprised than many other people would also be surprised.
So what does a sheriff’s office do for a living? In Missouri our state laws are specific. The first duty of a sheriff’s office is to support the circuit court of the county. That covers a number of tasks. First, we must see to it that inmates who have been committed to the jail by court authority are brought before the court on a timely basis. When you have 77 inmates scattered across four jails, that is not quite as easy as it sounds. In addition, if there are security problems with any inmate or any other person appearing before the court, we are expected to supply extra security. We have had heated murder trials here before and have had up to 16 officers in the courtroom when the jury verdict was read. Those officers came from all local agencies and were coordinated by us as to the response.
Second, we must serve the criminal and civil papers of the court on the public. From memory, in 2010 we had about 6,000 papers in each category. That means the 15 of us must locate and serve 12,000 people in the course of a year. We have one ace in the hole here and that is our reserve deputies. Several of them enjoy serving papers and they greatly assist us with their efforts. At the start of every shift, each paid deputy is expected to serve papers for the first two hours of the shift. That is every shift except the midnight shift, seven days a week. If you should decide not to obey the paper we might get a second paper called a writ of body attachment, which is a nice way of saying we find you and haul you to jail and there you sit until the judge calls the case you are needed for. Try to avoid writs of body attachment, folks, because they are not fun.
Each of the 12,000 papers served is part of a case and when the case is over then we move to step two of the paper drill. We enforce the orders of the court. That means we might have to take the baby from dad and hand the baby to mom. We might have to take the baby from mom and hand the baby to dad. We might take the baby from both of them and give the child to the Division of Family Services or one set of grandparents. If you failed to pay a court ordered judgment, then we get to serve other papers and load up your TV and fine bedroom furniture or seize your power tools or car, all to be sold on the courthouse steps to satisfy the judgment. We have even been ordered to walk into a food service establishment during the high noon rush hour crowd and empty the contents of the cash register to satisfy the judgment. For the record, if we show up to seize property to satisfy such a judgment, we do not take checks as payment. We also sell off land and homes on the courthouse steps to enforce the court orders.
That’s job number one.
Job number two, by statute, is to be the county jail administrator and to hold and care for all inmates committed by court order. That means we house, feed, and see to it that all sick or injured inmates are taken for medical treatment. These tasks are subject to more state and federal laws then I have space to explain in this column. These jail duties are subject to serious civil liability (i.e., major dollars) for Pulaski County and must be carried out promptly and efficiently. One sub-group of details here are the 96-hour civil commitments to mental hospitals for those who need such services. If you know that the state of Missouri has gutted the state mental health care system with budget cuts, then you know how hard it is to find a place anywhere in the state which can and will take the person who needs help. We have taken people of late to a St. Louis hospital and then had to turn around and bring them right back and start over. If you recall the four inmates on suicide watch I mentioned in last week’s column, we could not find a bed anywhere for them for several days. If an inmate goes to a hospital for surgery, we stand guard over them until released. We had a murder suspect a few years ago who went to the Lake Ozark hospital for almost 30 days worth of guard detail.
By Missouri statute, our third job is to quell affrays, suppress riots, and otherwise do real live police work such as chasing bad guys and doing criminal investigations -- in other words, the 10,000-plus calls for service we get each year that the voters of Pulaski County feel should be in first place as a priority for us and not the other two jobs that are our priority by law.
This conflict of priority leads to a lot of mad people. If we have one deputy left to respond to a call and we have a burglary investigation that needs to be done and an inmate that needs to go to the hospital emergency room, the average person cannot understand why the inmate comes first. I fully understand the frustration of the citizens and I also fully understand what Missouri law says the sheriff shall do. I also fully understand what our resources are. Missouri statutes use the words may and shall frequently and shall carries the weight. On the local level, this conflict in priority leads to a lot of people saying the sheriff can’t do his job and needs to go bye-bye at election time or other such nasty words and protest letters to the editor. Just for the record, the sheriff is mentioned in almost 900 Missouri statutes and most of those statutes assign him a job to do.
In a nutshell, there you have the duties of a sheriff’s office that our 15 paid deputies try to do each year. I suspect they were not exactly the duties you expected to read. Please drive with care for we still help at wrecks and please keep your actions legal because we do run the jail and we do turn on the jail light bulb.
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