Sheriff asks for more deputies

·5 min read

May 16—Cumberland County Sheriff Casey Cox asked the county budget committee to add more deputies to his office next year as the department faces increased call volume, more citizens to serve and a county that's the fourth largest in the state.

"Last year, we had 672 new addresses, 13 new roads and the population just keeps growing," Cox told the budget committee during its May 12 meeting.

Cox's budget request to the county calls for adding four new deputies at a projected cost of $53,800 in salary and benefits each, and training, equipment and a new patrol car for those positions, which are an additional $64,000 per person.

The personnel request totals $215,000 with an additional $253,000 for capital expenses for equipment.

A federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice could help defray the cost of hiring new deputies, Cox said.

The grant would pay 75% of the salary and benefits of the officers for three years, with a commitment from the county to retain the personnel for 12 months after the end of the grant.

"I'm asking for four deputies straight up," Cox said. "If I can do the grant, I'm asking for six."

The county would still be responsible for equipment, training and vehicle costs, about $380,000,

Federal grants for personnel are rare, Cox told the committee.

"We got eight officers back about 22 years ago from a COPS grant," he said. "We are going to apply again, if you agree."

The grant would allow the department to hire up to nine new deputies, but Cox said he could not realistically hire that many deputies in one year.

"I couldn't do it," he said.

According to E-911, the department answered more than 47,000 calls, the Crossville Police Department answered 31,306 calls and the Fairfield Glade Police Department answered 5,060.

Sheriff's deputies in Putnam County, which is smaller in terms of area, responded to 32,000 calls. Cox noted Putnam County includes certified police departments in Cookeville, Monterey, Algood, Baxter and the Tennessee Tech campus.

Putnam County has 45 deputies on patrol. Cumberland County has 34 patrol deputies.

Cox said he has divided the county into three zones deputies patrol. Each zone is more than 210 square miles, which is larger than several counties in the state.

"I would love to be able to have three officers in every zone," he said.

Cox said he will sometimes receive requests to provide extra patrols in different areas.

"I know the chances of that happening are pretty slim because they just answered 47,000 calls," Cox said. "When people say they don't see a deputy, I say that tells me you don't have any problems down your road.

"We respond to problems and things going on. We're limited on the extra patrol."

The grant is designated for hiring to increase community policing and improve crime prevention efforts.

"That's what I want to see the Sheriff's Office be," Cox said. "I want to see us where we've got those officers out in their zones. They know those roads, they know the people on those roads."

Six new patrol deputies won't allow Cox to fully implement the sub-zone program he envisions, he said, but "we're knocking on its door."

The grant application is due in June, with awards expected to be announced in July.

Cox also reviewed his capital budget requests which totaled more than $1.3 million between the sheriff's office and the jail.

The most expensive item, a video surveillance system, had been requested last year but not budgeted. Since then, the cost has increased about $100,000.

"That system is what controls the jail," Cox said. It runs the door locks, the video system and alarms. It's original to the building and operates on analog technology.

"All of it is obsolete," he said.

The system is required for operation of the jail. Without it, correctional staff must conduct inmate checks and safety patrols every 15 minutes around the clock.

Cox received two proposals for a new system. One was not a new system, but a "patch," he said, and estimated at $507,000. The proposal did not include references from correctional facilities.

The other comes from a company that specializes in correctional facilities and would be an entirely new system. That's what Cox recommends. The estimated price is $608,000.

If the current system were to fail, Cox estimated it would take four to six months to install a new system. The overtime costs from the required safety patrols during that time would cost an estimated $657,000.

Cox has also asked for $200,000 to build a firing range for the officers to train at. Currently, the department uses a firing range operated by TWRA in Catoosa, but they are subject to hunting schedules and the needs of state agencies that also use the facility.

The facility would be a three-room metal building, with a classroom area and two training areas. It would also house the animal control department that was transferred to the Sheriff's Office in January.

Cox said he could pay for half of the facility out of the drug fund, a restricted account funded through seizures of property or money determined to be related to drug trafficking.

Other capital requests include $157,000 for body cameras, though Cox noted he is seeking a grant that would pay about $75,000 of the cost, if awarded.

While not included in the sheriff's office budget, court officers have noted there is a need to upgrade audio-visual equipment in the courtrooms of the Cumberland County Justice Center.

The current system is inoperable in one courtroom, and the other courtrooms face challenges with old equipment and mics that do not work properly.

Jessica Burgess, circuit court clerk, estimated it would take about $90,000 to upgrade the equipment in two of the five courtrooms. Additional upgrades would be necessary in subsequent years.

Many types of judicial proceedings are required to be recorded, including preliminary hearings, trials, and termination of parental rights.

The poor equipment caused challenges during a recent murder trial, Burgess said. The technology kept failing, she said, causing frustration to court personnel.

Heather Mullinix is editor of the Crossville Chronicle. She covers schools and education in Cumberland County. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.