March 02–MOULTON — Running departments on a tight budget is becoming commonplace in Lawrence County.
Sheriff Gene Mitchell said it’s a constant juggling act to ensure he has the county covered with a sufficient number of deputies. He said his nine patrol deputies are barely enough to do the job.
“We don’t have enough manpower as it stands,” he said, “but we’ve been in that snowstorm for awhile.”
In early 2016, the County Commission asked departments funded by the general fund to trim their budgets to make it through the fiscal year.
Commissioner Bobby Burch said with the loss of International Paper revenue in 2014 and declining in-lieu-of-tax payments from the Tennessee Valley Authority, funding remains tight. Also last year, voters in a referendum rejected increasing the county sales tax by 2 cents on the dollar, which would have brought the total sales tax to 9 percent, level with Moulton and Town Creek.
“Revenue is a big problem for all departments in the general fund,” Burch said.
In January, the commission approved a hiring freeze until further notice.
Mitchell said that a couple of years ago, his department had 12 deputies and a supervisor.
“In a perfect world, I’d have 20 deputies,” he said. “In the realistic world here in Lawrence County, I would like to be back at 12, but we’ll work with what County Commission gives us.”
Two of the nine deputies — Ashley Bowling and David Crittenden — are out with injuries suffered while responding to calls. He said another deputy will have knee surgery next week.
“The injuries we are having are terrible,” he said. “Cutting deputies puts every deputy in more danger responding to calls.”
He said Bowling was injured in an Oct. 16, 2016, standoff involving Demetrae Griffin of Moulton. Bowling remains off the job, recovering from head injuries. Crittenden was injured two weeks ago dealing with three juvenile burglary suspects in the Langtown community, Mitchell said.
“We had a deputy who suffered a broken arm in Langtown while detaining three unruly juveniles,” Mitchell said. “We didn’t have a backup deputy. If Moulton police didn’t step in to help out, it could have been a lot worse.”
Crittenden could miss another two months, Mitchell said.
The Sheriff’s Office has 10 jailers, two part-time and one full-time courthouse security officers, five investigators and three drug task force agents. He said his five investigators also share patrol duties when needed. He said one investigator is dedicated to sex offender cases. Mitchell said the Legislature got tougher on sex criminals a couple years ago.
“The Legislature added extra duties (to the counties), but they didn’t send up any extra money to pay for it,” he added. “And when one offender doesn’t register, it takes time to run that person down.”
His 10 jailers are in charge of working with about 100 inmates. “We’re able to make it work,” Mitchell said. “If I thought it was unsafe, we’d move people around.”
He said response time on patrol calls may lag sometimes because of the small staff.
“Injuries are my biggest worry, and officer safety,” he said. “You can’t measure what didn’t happen. You can only measure what did happen, like in Langtown a couple weeks ago.”
Mitchell said regardless of his staff numbers, his office is able to keep the county safe.
“We have to provide safety for the public,” he said. “We continue to answer all the calls.”
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