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Jan 07

Remaining Responsible

Posted on January 7, 2020 at 1:25 PM by Renie Dugwyler

Typically around this time I reflect on our accomplishments at the Sheriff’s Office over the past year and look forward to initiatives for the new year. And, like every year, we had many successes in 2019. We launched VINE to alert victims to changes in offenders’ custody status. We solved a 1981 murder case through genetic genealogy testing. We implemented efficiencies that reduced the time it takes an officer to book an offender into jail, from an average of over one hour down to 11 minutes. And we expanded our partnership with the Jefferson Center for Mental Health for two additional mental health case managers to assist our Patrol Division. These and many more goals were attained during the past year.

However, it is also prudent I acknowledge the time and energy we spent last year on plans to mitigate the impact that an effective $5.5 million budget reduction will have on the Sheriff’s Office and, more importantly, the public we serve in 2020. Harsh monetary realities require unpopular decisions when balancing our primary statutory responsibilities related to public safety with our obligation to taxpayers to continue living within our means.

Our two largest expenses are personnel and the detention facility. Subsequently, they offer the greatest potential for cost-savings. Thus, to achieve our target $5.5 million budget differential for 2020, we made the difficult decision to hold 51 positions vacant and close one floor of the jail. Over the course of 2019, we were able to attain the necessary staff reduction through natural attrition, and we developed a jail population management plan that will sustain the 18% decrease in operational capacity for this year.

Effective on January 1, whenever the jail population exceeds operational capacity by 2%, the jail population management plan requires we release some inmates early, after they have served at least 50% of their sentence. We may also have to limit who we book into the jail, by denying misdemeanor and low-level felony offenses. And, as a last resort, arresting officers may need to retain custody of offenders until space opens in the jail. Certainly, these measures are very concerning, for they jeopardize public safety and they challenge our mission to protect, serve, and enforce.

To help mitigate these concerns and sustain our mission well into the future, I will continue to encourage the county commissioners to prioritize public safety during all future discussions surrounding the county’s budget. And this year, just as every year, the dedicated men and women of the Sheriff’s Office will continue to be responsible with the resources entrusted to us, and provide exceptional public safety services despite budgetary constraints to ensure Jefferson County remains a safe place for all people to live, learn, work, and play. We will be here when you need us.