The Sheriff’s Office has had a very busy summer. We have participated in many public events and been very busy with our usual law enforcement duties and responsibilities. This news bulletin will provide a brief overview of some of the many activities we have been involved in during the past several months.
NEW SECRETARY POSITION:
We were successful in securing approval and funding from the Quorum Court for another Secretary/Clerk position for the Sheriff’s Office. This is the first administrative position added since 1998, and it was long overdue. The amount of paperwork and public contacts from walk-ins and phone calls has increased exponentially since 1993. After reviewing applications and conducting interviews with quite a number of very well qualified applicants, Debbie Savino was hired as our new Secretary. Our administrative office staff now includes Bev Schmidt, Office Manager; Kelley Eubank, District Court Coordinator; Maryanne Hubbard, Records Management Coordinator; and Debbie Savino, Civil Process Coordinator. In addition, Jamie Holland serves as Secretary to the Criminal Investigation Division. One of the primary duties of the new Secretary position is entering incident/offense reports and accident reports into our computerized records management system (RMS). Deputies will now take a paper report in the field and drop it off to the Secretary during or at the end of their shifts to be entered into our RMS system. This will relieve the deputies from having to spend a substantial amount of their shift sitting at a computer work station in the office entering and creating reports. This saved time can be spent patrolling in their assigned work zones and allow them more time to manage all of the “Extra Patrol” and “Vacation Home Watch” request that come in each week.
DETENTION CENTER INSPECTION AND JAILER TRAINING:
We received our yearly Detention Center inspection on June 6th by members of the Arkansas Criminal Detention Facilities Review Board. As is customary, this was an unannounced inspection, and we were quite pleased with the results of their review. Specific comments included: “Facility is very well maintained. Jail staff should be commended and encouraged to continue the good work”. It was noted that not all Jailers had yet completed the required Jailer Certification course, however, as luck would have it, we already had that course scheduled to begin on Monday June 9th. This is a forty (40) hour training course accredited by the Arkansas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards. I am pleased to report that everyone in need of this training, with the exception of one person, was able to attend the course and complete their certification. One additional comment concerned the non-use of a relatively expensive “Video Arraignment System” that was purchased in mid 2005 that remains operational but has never been used. The objective behind purchasing this system was to cut back on the number of transports of jail inmates from the Detention Center to the various courts for first appearance and arraignment purposes. This would solve numerous security problems, as well as arranging transportation and extra deputies (mostly Reserve Deputies) to serve as guards. Video Arraignment Systems are in use in other places in Arkansas and throughout the nation. They have shown their value, and there should be no reason that such a system cannot be utilized effectively in Baxter County. However, due to objections from one or more officers of the court, the use of this system has never been implemented, and it remains to be seen if it ever will be implemented. It’s sad to see that the county is not benefiting at all from this system that has such potential. Can’t we at least give it a try??
Several of our Jailers also became certified in dispatch communications by The Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO). A former employee of the Mountain Home Police Department, Ms. Barb Pankonen, is a certified APCO instructor. She now lives and works in Bloomington, Illinois as a dispatch supervisor. She generously volunteered to donate her time to travel back to Mountain Home to hold an APCO certification class for some of our Jailers. We gladly accepted her offer, and the class was held on Friday, August 8th. Thanks, Barb, from all of us! We appreciate it.
And speaking of the Detention Center, I just want to note that the average daily inmate population continues to grow with each passing year, and I believe this past weekend we had our highest daily inmate count on record…..being in the high 80’s. This trend will absolutely require that additional staffing be added at the Detention Center within the next one or two years. It is unavoidable if we are to remain in compliance with Jail Standards.
NEW INMATE CLASSIFICATION AND DISCIPLINARY SYSTEMS:
For decades, not only Baxter County but most other jurisdiction as well, classified inmates based strictly on the classification of the offenses they were charged with, being either misdemeanor or felony. Housing assignments for male inmates were made based on the charges, with the inmate being placed in either the “Misdemeanor Pod” or the “Felony Pod”, while all female inmates were housed together in the “Female Pod”, regardless of the classification of their charges. This arrangement really didn’t make a whole lot of sense when you actually sat down and looked at it in detail. The idea was the “misdemeanants” were charged with minor offenses and wouldn’t be violent or security risks, etc., while “felons” were charged with more serious offenses and would be prone to violence and more of an escape risk and thus housed separately. This classification system did not take into account any prior arrest/criminal history of the inmate, any prior indications or acts of violence committed during previous periods of incarceration, or any other violent encounters between the inmate and law enforcement officers that had occurred in the field in the current situation or in the past. This really didn’t make sense. For example, a person arrested and charged with a misdemeanor assault or battery crime would likely be more prone to violence than a person arrested and charged with a felony hot check crime. Yet the person charged with the non-violent felony would be considered a higher risk than the person charged with the violent misdemeanor.
Most jurisdictions began moving toward the use of a “behavioral classification” system instead, one not based solely upon the level of the inmate’s charge(s). We have now switched to the behavioral classification system as well. An intake assessment is now completed for each inmate within twenty-four (24) hours of his or her incarceration. The assessment takes into account the nature and seriousness of the current charge(s), any past arrest history of the inmate, any known or suspected mental health issues of the inmate, any known prior incidents of violence between the inmate and officers or jailers, and other relevant criteria. After the assessment is completed, the Jailer will determine whether the inmate poses a serious risk, moderate risk, or low risk, or whether the inmate is in need of isolation or administrative segregation for reasons related to his or her safety and other factors. Due to the layout of the Detention Center, all female inmates must still be housed together in the same housing unit, however the housing for male inmates is now determined based upon their intake assessment, and not strictly on the charges as before.
We have also implemented a new disciplinary system to maintain order in the Detention Center and address potential security issues. This new system establishes a more clear course of action that a Jailer may take when there is a need to impose disciplinary sanctions on an inmate. The system allows a Jailer to specifically document any order, security, or rules violations alleged to have been committed by an inmate that would warrant disciplinary action. The allegations are reviewed by a Supervisor, and the inmate is provided with a copy of the same allegations and given the opportunity to respond and be heard. The Supervisor then makes a decision on disciplinary action. The inmate is afforded an administrative appeal process to the Sheriff as well. We believe this new procedure will provide for proper documentation of all incidents, more consistent administration of disciplinary action, and will provide for the due process rights of the inmates to be maintained.
OTHER OFFICER TRAINING:
Most of our deputies attended refresher training sponsored by the Mountain Home Police Department concerning response to “Active Shooters” that might potentially, but hopefully will never, be encountered within our local public school system. This training prepares initial responding officers to act in a manner that will engage the “Active Shooter” in a short period of time rather than just establishing perimeters and waiting for a special response team to assemble and make an entry into the building. The idea is that lives can potentially be saved by quickly taking action to neutralize the shooter rather than waiting an extended period of time for specialized resources to arrive. Deputies have been involved in this training for several years, and this year the training was held June 18th to June 20th.
TASER certification and re-certification class was held at the Emergency Services Training Center in Midway on July 30th for several Deputies and Jailers. We have a TASER at the Detention Center as a tool that can be utilized to control aggressive and combative behavior by inmates and arrestees. So far, we’ve never had to actually fire the TASER at someone, but the mere fact that the inmates have knowledge of the presence of the TASER within the facility has gone a long way toward maintaining order. I, myself, have taken a five second stun from the TASER, and it most definitely is not a pleasant experience. The TASER incapacitates an aggressor, but causes no injuries to the person. Lakeview Chief of Police Dave Manley, a certified TASER instructor, taught the class for us. We appreciate Dave and his assistance to the Sheriff’s Office. Thank you!
Deputies have been heavily involved in many public events this summer, particularly around the Independence Day holiday. These included the fireworks and associated activities at the Red, White, and Blue Festival in Mountain Home, the annual Fireworks Display at Norfork Lake, and the Fireworks Display at Bull Shoals Lake. Other events included “Arkansas Days” in June, the “T-Bucket Memorial Run for fallen Gassville Officer Jim Sell” on July 25th, the air show at Ozark Regional Airport, and Safety Week at Wal Mart. Our dedicated group of Reserve Deputies helped out a great deal at these events.
PRISONER TRANSPORT COSTS:
Although it is only August, our prisoner transport expense line item in the budget is depleted. We have had deputies on the road every week doing transports and picking up prisoners from throughout Arkansas and other states as well, returning them to face charges in Baxter County on outstanding warrants. We have placed more and more emphasis on extraditions from out of state. Many of these people have been located because of “citizen tips” that have come that are generated in response to our “Most Wanted” section on our web site. While some may question our decision to pay the costs involved in extraditions, we take seriously our responsibility of returning those to Baxter County who have committed crimes against the public here. This is particularly true of those who owe restitution to crime victims in Baxter County.
One transportation cost over which we have no control whatsoever are those payroll, fuel, and vehicle maintenance costs associated with mental health commitment transports. The number of these continues to increase, and they have become a considerable burden on the department’s resources. We have tried to work with the other entities involved in mental health commitments to eliminate some of the unnecessary transports, but have met with little success. The process of involuntary mental health commitments commences in one of two ways. The first method is for the spouse, parent, or guardian of a person to petition the court for an involuntary commitment and pick up order, which is delivered to the Sheriff’s Office to be served. The second, and most common way, is for an officer in the field, usually acting on a public complaint, to make a “mental health arrest” on someone due to the person’s behavior constituting a clear and immediate danger to his or her safety and the safety of others. This person is brought to the Detention Center. This person should not be brought to the Detention Center, but there is no other local facility that will take the person. We are not equipped, trained, or staffed to house mentally ill patients, even briefly. Then, after being brought to the Detention Center, the mental health profession on call will usually journey to the Detention Center and conduct an intake evaluation on the person. The decision is then made whether to release the person from continued custody, or whether to initiate involuntary commitment proceedings to have the person placed in a suitable mental health facility for continued assessment. If the decision for involuntary commitment is made, then it becomes the responsibility of the Sheriff’s Office (or any law enforcement agency) to transport the “mental health arrestee” to the designated facility, which is usually in the Little Rock-Benton-Malvern areas. There are no inpatient facilities anywhere near Mountain Home. Then it becomes a race for time. The chosen facility will usually only hold the “bed” for a brief period of time. It is frequently an ordeal to try and arrange transport on the spur of the moment, on a weekend, or in the middle of the night. The condition of the mental health arrestee is often such that two (2) deputies must make the transport together. Then, in order to maintain the due process rights of the mental health arrestee, he must be provided with a court hearing before a Judge within the prescribed period of time. Unfortunately, none of the Judges in the Little Rock-Benton-Malvern areas will agree to conduct such brief preliminary hearings. Judges have discretion to refuse to become involved. Law enforcement does not have discretion to refuse these long distance transports, so here comes the second trip to the Little Rock-Benton-Malvern, just to pick up the patient, transport him or her back to Mountain Home for a brief hearing, then, most probably, turn right back around and take the patient back to the treatment facility in Little Rock-Benton-Malvern to be dropped off again. But, the transporting doesn’t end there. Frequently at the end of the next seven (7) day period, there will be another brief court hearing. So back to Little Rock-Benton-Malvern we go, pick up the patient again and bring back to Mountain Home, then, in all likelihood, back to the facility we go yet again to drop off the patient. That still may not be the end of it. Often, once the patient is pronounced cured and released, the process will begin once again within days or weeks when the patient begins engaging in the same kind of behavior again.
Now, we understand that we must completely fulfill our transport obligations when presented with a court order. We have no complaint with that. However, so many man hours, fuel costs, and vehicle maintenance costs could be saved if only Judges in the Little Rock-Benton-Malvern areas would take a few moments out of their day and conduct the hearings in their courts. They can, if they choose to. It’s been done before. However, of late, they don’t seem to be doing so at all. I don’t want to sound like a big whiner, but this is truly becoming a serious manpower and budgetary issue. I look for the strain to become even greater in the months and years ahead. I have learned that there will be proposals put forth at the next legislative session to create a system of “Mental Health Courts”, similar to the “Drug Courts” that were introduced a few years back. Whether this will help alleviate the problem, or create additional transportation issues, will remain to be seen.
INMATE WORK PROGRAM:
With our new Detention Center van providing us with a reliable means of transporting prisoners, we have begin utilizing inmates on more and more work details, particularly having them pick up trash along the public roadways. Jailers and Reserve Deputies have been taking out groups of inmates as often as possible. We’ve had a lot of positive response and feedback to this program, and we look forward to continuing it.
We hold a department meeting about twice per year for all full time and part time employees and reserve deputies. This gives us a chance to discuss our upcoming goals, objectives, and planning, and allows us to discuss various issues that might have arisen that need to be addressed. We met Monday of this week at 5:00 PM. The City of Mountain Home allowed us the use of their Council Chambers so we would have a room large enough to accommodate our group. We extend thanks to the City for doing so.
Some of the issues we discussed were:
Prisoner Transports and Extraditions
Issuing Receipts and Handling Money
Intake Booking Procedures
Requirements for Fingerprints
Issues with Parking
Traffic Enforcement and Extra Patrol Requests
Community Service Program
The meeting lasted about an hour and a quarter, and then everyone moved over to the Old Hickory Park and enjoyed a cook-out and visiting with co-workers, family, and friends.
Well, that’s it for this issue. The Baxter County Fair will be coming up soon, and the Sheriff’s Office will have a booth set up, as usual, and will be displaying information on large screen monitors showing our Registered Sex Offenders and Most Wanted Persons. Be sure to stop by our booth and check it out. We hope to see you there !
Capt. Jeff Lewis,
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