Baxter County, Arkansas Sheriff John Montgomery
Retired Coconino, Arizona Sheriff Joe Richards
Reprint of March 2013 issue - Lakeview
Recently I spoke to a group of about 80 people concerning many issues that are facing the Baxter County Sheriff's Office and Baxter County. I answered questions for about 90 minutes and passed out laws, budgets etc. to the group. The next day Helen Maxwell, a Los Angeles Police Reporter who lives in Lakeview, Arkansas contacted me wanting to do a story on the issues that were facing Baxter County. Below is a reprint of the article that was published in the March 2013 edition of Lakeview.
Former Coconino County Sheriff Joe Richards was legend. Though ambitious police officers challenge sitting sheriffs, wanting that crown of power, Joe Richards was re-elected repeatedly for 32 years. He was the longest serving Sheriff in Arizona history. Retired in 2004, Richards endured the plight of trying to manage a sheriff’s department encumbered with great financial burden. Seemingly, those who had control of the purse strings did not heed his pleas for adequate funding. At the time of this interview in the early eighties, Richards seemed extremely frustrated, but he had not given up. Richards was trained to manage a police agency well, with both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in police administration from Northern Arizona University. He was also a graduate of the FBI National Academy and the National Sheriff’s Institute at the University of Southern California. He served 14 years on the Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission. This is not a man of mere opinions. Though now retired, Richards' views continue to be defined as expertise.
By the time he retired, Richards admitted that due to absence of “effective, proactive and aggressive law enforcement” a tragic situation overtook his police jurisdiction. His years of effort in maintaining a balancing act in the maintenance of public safety did not work. A police career which began in 1960 seemed to culminate in the sad realization that the most firm moral commitment, an abundance of energy, and years of trying to educate the public, did not win his battle to adequately protect the public good. Those who control tax money, after all, relish a person who can get passable results on slim investment. The problem is, accomplishing goals in policing, founded upon restrictive or even unrealistic budgets, gets harder every year as America gets ever more ragged. It is born of drug addiction, broken families, even values taught in entertainment by heroes who use the tactics of villains. There are many causes. The consequences wait outside the doors of the nation’s jails.
In many ways, Baxter County Sheriff John Montgomery is almost a mirror image of Arizona Sheriff Joe Richards, in terms of budget problems. In a question and answer period recently, Montgomery evoked the same sincerity as Richards, with a similar and very evident energy to try to fix what is wrong. An earmark of Montgomery was that he appears to be innovative and capable of thinking out of the box to find solutions. Credit must also be given to his support staff. Montgomery, in a lengthy explanation before a crowd in Mountain Home recently, told how the department acquired a helicopter via federal surplus (a Bell 306A1, military designation: OH58A) and how personnel cannibalized parts from other used and dilapidated helicopters (two donated by state police), and brought a three-dimensional police presence to Baxter County for response to dire events. This focused on everything from searching for a violence prone suspect to finding a lost and helpless child. Helicopters are not used every day, but in the search for a dangerous fugitive or during a lengthy pursuit, a helicopter is a tremendous public safety asset and they can save lives. Truly, the sheriff’s department helicopter brought local policing into the 20th century at the time. This three-dimensional police presence with the 1971 “bird,” especially with heat-seeking FLIR which technologically illuminates the most clever criminal in hiding, is something less resourceful police agencies would surely have envied, and probably many still do. FLIR was paid for with a special $180,000 grant. How the personnel within the Baxter County Sheriff’s Department did this, could provide a speech in itself. Alarming is that this three dimensional capability has stopped: the helicopter was grounded due to lean budget. According to sheriff’s department spokesmen, there is now no law enforcement helicopter presence even in surrounding counties.
Early this year, Baxter County Sheriff Montgomery executed a dramatic plan in an attempt to keep his sheriff’s department viable under conditions similar to those of Sheriff Richards all those years ago in Arizona. For someone elected to public office, this carried risk, but he did it. Montgomery ordered a reduction in the 102 beds in the county jail to reduce the cost of housing inmates, which the police budget could no longer handle. Fifty-eight beds were cut in December. For anyone thinking catching crooks is the hardest part of managing a police agency, consider the quagmire of budgeting jail medical costs.
According to the Baxter County Sheriff’s Department’s Captain Jeff Lewis, the following is the mathematical tangle of laws regarding the funding of jail medical care in Baxter County. “In 2012”, Lewis said, “the costs of jail medical costs exceeded budget by $69,395 for professional medical services and pharmaceutical products. That is overage from what was budgeted by the governing body. For those incarcerated, Medicare Part A continues. Part B Medicare stops. Medicaid stops, VA health coverage stop immediately. SSI benefits continue to be paid to the detainee until after the first full month of incarceration. SSI retirement, survivor and disability payments continue to be paid until 30 days after conviction. Veterans Administration cash benefits continue to be paid until 60 days after conviction. Laws change in 2014 allowing Medicaid to continue if an inmate is otherwise eligible to receive Medicaid,” Lewis added. “Apparently, all medical costs provided to incarcerated detainees or persons in custody who are hospitalized, are funded by the taxpayers of Baxter County,” Lewis said.
The cost of medication for Baxter County inmates in 2012, according to sheriff’s department data, was $45,886. In only one month, the bill for medicine was nearly $5,000. For 2012, Operating Supplies and Medic on the budget chart, $15,000. Actual cost was $36,490.40. Professional Service: Medical/Dental was budgeted at $9,500. Financial burden was actually $60,027.26. According to jailer Robert Recktenwald, once an inmate is sentenced and is awaiting a bed in the Arkansas Department of Corrections, it is then that the State of Arkansas picks up the medical costs. A sheriff not only has to know how to “protect and serve,” he must be a politician trying to please quite varied voting groups, and above all, he must also know how to run a complicated business. That includes being cautious and discerning enough to choose worthy support staff. In other words, a sheriff’s department must have tiers of intelligent supervisors who must know a lot more than the law. Today, it can be extremely risky to vote into office any sheriff who does not have comprehensive abilities. Above that, a sheriff must be dedicated and honest.
Sheriff Montgomery’s move to reduce the number of jail beds both shocked and dismayed some in local law enforcement. With fewer beds, there would be fewer arrests? That is a statistical reality. Would property crime rise? It was already rising. It is an admission that law enforcement leaders like Arizona’s Sheriff Richards and Baxter County’s Montgomery cannot work magic, as hard as some may try.
Consider the words of Sheriff Richards over twenty years ago when quality of life in some areas of Arizona was already beginning to show stress. Richards' newly constructed jail, designed not to fill to capacity for ten years, he said was full capacity in its first year, largely due to “narcotics corridor” crimes. Richards could not take a breath.
Indeed, that jail was the Coconino County burden. Sheriff Richards said it generated the largest financial losses within his police agency and it was having a negative impact on enforcement, meaning it was crimping police service to residents of his county. “There needs to be either some sort of tax raising capability,” Richards suggested, “or a revenue generating mechanism available to us (police agencies) to meet the growing demands….” In describing the budget situation, he used the word, “crippling.” He spoke of his past year’s 7 percent turnover in personnel. The following year, turnover rose to 15 percent. “They can go right down the street to Flagstaff P. D.,” Richards said, “and begin making $250 to $300 dollars more a month, for doing essentially the same job.” This is one of the most painful management burdens for the Baxter County Sheriff’s Department also. It does not meet a competitive salary schedule.
An almost hidden burden from the nation’s taxpayers, county sheriffs have to cope with the expenses of medical care for sick inmates, even those used to federal entitlements. Herein, is education about federal entitlements which loom over local taxpayers in Baxter County when individual inmate’s situations change. The medical expenses range from high-cost medical tests to cancer treatment which can become a crushing financial blow. In a small jail system it is possible for one inmate to totally drain the medical budget for all inmates, for the entire year. In the State of Virginia, medication for inmates having Hepatitis C, often an outgrowth of a drug habit and sharing needles, was costing $20,000 per inmate. Another newer medication for the disease cost $50,000 to $70,000 per offender according to the state’s own study in how to cut costs. Inmate patients costing the taxpayers more than $50,000 a year accounted for 43 percent of the medical budget. According to the Department of Justice, today’s offenders are now older, sicker and stay longer behind bars than ever before. Offenders, according to DOJ, are also entering the system with more acute medical needs. Costs of out-patient care increased 19 percent from 2010 to 2011, according to State of Virginia’s reports on its corrections systems. Yet another issue of concern was the number of inmates with heart problems. Illegal drugs can injure the hearts of users, and taxpayers pick up the tab. The cost is rising.
For perspective on inmates who are disabled, a percentage of whom would lose benefits while in jail, according to a Cornell University statistical analysis, in 2011 the overall number of working age Arkansas citizens (ages 21 to 64) with a disability was 253,900, though Cornell researchers do not count residents who are institutionalized. Over 16 percent of Arkansas citizens are designated as disabled, a total of 481,100 in 2011, according to the most recent Cornell data.
A fact: the higher the entitlement rolls become, the more financial burden local taxpayers endure when members of that group commit crimes and are jailed. Local jurisdictions have no control over this. Until the Social Security office can verify an inmate has been released - some inmates are held in county jails for up to a year - federal payments do not resume. One answer Baxter County Sheriff Montgomery chose, was in order to reduce these feared future medical costs, he reduced jail capacity. In another jurisdiction outside Arkansas, one medical professional complained that an inmate patient scheduled for surgery the following day was released, thus a jail would not have to pay for the operation. There is a police insider adage: “An inmate can’t vote, but he may be able to have a liver transplant.” Suffice to say, he might not be housed in Baxter County’s jail if there are not enough beds.
When a prisoner has to be transported to Little Rock for specialized care, Montgomery explained, the costs include gasoline, overtime pay for a deputy who must remain with that patient, medication fees, doctor bills, etc. Prescription costs can be daunting. Consider that one inmate may require a prescription costing $600 a day. By removing beds in the jail, Montgomery could also protect the county from both state and federal authorities who oversee jail conditions, thus preventing the county from being in the cross-hairs of outsider enforcement linked to jail over-crowding, potential lawsuits and the resultant legal dictates which can become brutal, as the State of California discovered. The jail’s drain on the overall police budget eventually begins to limit enforcement options throughout a police jurisdiction, a current problem. Reduced police service has already occurred in Baxter County. Sheriff Montgomery sent a letter regarding that to mayors and chiefs of police. Lakeview’s Mayor Dennis Behling and Chief of Police Dave Manley received one of those letters.
Retaining the best police personnel is also an issue county residents should consider, since it often links to policing standards. A deputy may choose between financial security for his family or the job he loves. As in the Coconino County case, Sheriff Richards said, “We’re finding ourselves becoming a training ground for other agencies.” He said his police response time had fallen to 45 minutes, which can mean the difference between life and death. (Indeed, recently sheriff’s response time to a burglar alarm in Lakeview, according to one business owner, was over 40 minutes, a similar slow response.) “We are two years behind in terms of resources, our equipment and our supply needs, our manpower needs,” Arizona’s Richards said. “I could accommodate 12 new officers right now and not be over-staffed. We are in trouble.”
Then there are the lawsuits filed by prisoners. This is common in law enforcement. George Franscell, known as “the father of police defense” in Los Angeles, claims that police departments are the deep pockets of any city. Police agencies are magnets for lawsuits. It is considered normal.
“We are feeding an insatiable monster,” the Arizona Sheriff said of his jail. Indeed, prisoner lawsuits can cripple an entire police department, sometimes an entire town and push it into bankruptcy. Though some lawsuits are justified, it has long been known that filing lawsuits may be a way of striking back at the system, and it can fill time during long days in a cell. “Jailhouse lawyers” get respect on the inside and image among inmates is everything. One “jailhouse lawyer” can be a power center figure among other inmates. He/she can cultivate a lawsuit culture; it is their right.
As in Baxter County, Arizona’s Richards said he was sheriff in a conservative county. That means tight money. Yet, he was perplexed by the lack of understanding about the realities of keeping public safety standards adequate. The tone of his interview was that no one seemed to be listening. “I just made a report to the Board of Supervisors,” he said. “Morale is lower than I have ever seen.” At the time, Richards had been in law enforcement 29 years. “Flagstaff just hired 6 more people,” he said. “All of them were from my department. A young man can’t make a decent living for his family. He has to look elsewhere. He comes in here and becomes a marketable commodity.” Baxter County’s Sheriff Montgomery stated in a speech recently that some of his personnel could move to Mountain Home PD and make over $4,000 more a year. “They can pick and choose my best personnel,” Montgomery said. It is a police management nightmare. The impact on county police jurisdiction where so many Baxter County voters live, is that a brain drain impacts enforcement standards for everyone who live and work in the county.
The Board of Supervisors’ attitudes about funding in Arizona’s Coconino County at the time Richards was at the helm, was sympathetic, Richards said. “But there have been no results. No change. Nothing.” One of the alleged costs of this was in officer survival. Deputies John Jameson and Mike Young were both killed in a two-year period, 1982-1983. “Tragic,” Richards said. “It sends a message.” Sheriff Richards looked at the floor and for a moment he seemed elsewhere. (At the time of Richards retirement, police response time severely increased, taking more than one hour, constant understaffing forced officers to drive long distances, work overtime and face dangerous situations without back-up, according to data surrounding change-over to new sheriff Bill Pribil in 2004.)
Richards recalled that in February of that year, deputies had two square miles to evacuate without enough personnel. “We don’t have what we need. The danger is there,” Richards said. And, there was the incident where a Yuma Marine, his wife and baby stopped to help someone on the road, “The whole family was murdered,” Richards said. “They blew them to pieces. They used shotguns. They murdered a young couple on their honeymoon.” In all, five people were killed. Crimes like those, which many voters may not expect to occur where they live, had an extremely negative impact in that region, according to Richards. But the link between police resources to prevent crime, to gain a reputation with criminals which is proactive, is especially hard to market in a financially conservative voting district. If policing gets weak, criminals always know first. A police jurisdiction becomes a magnet whereby criminals perceive less threat of being taken off the streets. According to public safety experts, the result is eventually more victims, resultant higher insurance rates, businesses closing and moving out. It takes time, but that slow regression can be noticed. It is a process repeated many times over, making for safe places to live, and unsafe places to live….and work.
Sheriff John Montgomery stated that he too hears the concerns of citizens and even gains support from some of them after they understand explanations. Yet, Montgomery asked a Quorum Court representative about it, and he said he was told only one person had called that representative to venture an opinion. “Only one person,” he said. Many citizens simply do not get involved in how they are governed. There can be consequence.
In police academy training, there is a segment called Values Clarification. It usually regards corruption. “How much are you willing to give up?” asked Dr. Robin Klein who was a supervisor with the Long Beach Police Department and is a California expert on the stresses of police work. To do something corrupt, “Is he willing to pay with his job, his spouse, his family…..his life?” Dr. Klein asked.
With residents of Baxter County, the question may be, “With weaker enforcement during higher unemployment and national fiscal crisis, what are they willing to give up if they do not pay attention to adequate police standards? Are they willing to give up their most valued possessions during a burglary, possibly representing so many memories since childhood? Are they willing to give up their health due to injury by a home intruder, are they willing to give up the safety of their children or grandchildren? Are they willing to give up their lives because police response time was too slow? Lastly, are they willing to allow a police officer who is a spouse and a parent, to be severely injured or killed because there was no adequate police back-up?” Those are the potential realities which penetrate the everyday work of police leaders today.
Writer: Los Angeles police reporter, Helen Maxwell. Credits include: ABC 20/20, CBS This Morning, Discovery Channel, Washington Post, Law Enforcement Technology, Police magazines, LAPD Blue Line as a police issues researcher and analyst. Featured in the Washington Post and New York Times. Author, Home Safe Home (New Horizon Press, Far Hills NJ), a book about the crime of burglary, among other credits.