As he does every year when requests are being considered, earlier this month Tipton County Sheriff Pancho Chumley asked the county commission for more manpower. In talking with him and his staff, the need is great.
Leader Publisher Rochelle Stidham met with him Tuesday and during the conversation he asked her to guess how many deputies she thought patrolled the county. Her guess of 25 was five times the number on any given shift and more in line with the average number of patrol division deputies employed by the county.
Tipton County has an estimated 62,000 residents in its 473 square miles, and this large area is patrolled by only four or five deputies per shift.
For the sake of comparison, the Covington Police Department staffs in very similar numbers per shift when its rosters are full. Its officers patrol 10.3 square miles.
The sheriff’s office has jurisdiction all over the county and deputies regularly respond to and assist with calls in areas covered by other agencies. With specialized training and equipment – like the SWAT team, narcotics investigators, drug and bomb dogs – this is what has to be done to help fill in the gaps for the other agencies who are also inadequately staffed.
However, even removing the areas patrolled by the municipal departments, there are still more than 439 square miles to cover, and responding to a call on Beaver Creek in the Gainesville area when you’re coming from Pryor Road in Drummonds, or even from Gift, is not going to be quick. It could be life threatening, both to those in need and to the deputies speeding through Tipton County in a rush to respond in a timely fashion.
It is, in one word, shameful.
The sheriff’s asked for five additional deputies in the patrol division, five correctional officers for safety in the jail, four narcotics investigators to help combat the county’s growing opiod crisis and another detective for general investigative needs.
They’ve also asked for more training and equipment, everything from shelving in the jail’s refrigeration unit to better radios for correctional officers, laptops for patrol deputies, tasers they don’t have to share from shift to shift, lights for their weapons and body cameras.
This year, Chumley requested a college tuition incentive, which would work two-fold in assisting degree-seeking officers with a secondary education and providing the county with deputies who are more knowledgeable and experienced in their field.
“The job is tougher than it’s ever been,” he told commissioners, “we’ve lost seven (deputies) in the last year-and-a-half.”
These deputies move on to larger agencies with better pay and benefits, which often happens, but it’s happening more often than ever before with all six of the law enforcement agencies in Tipton County.
Something’s got to be done, not only to increase the number of deputies who patrol this county, investigate the crimes committed and supervise those in custody, but also to retain those already employed.
It’s understandable that the county commission can’t fund every request made by the sheriff’s office, just as it cannot accommodate every request made by the school board or public works, but I certainly hope adequate staffing for the sheriff’s office is a big priority this year.
Funding is the road block, of course, and rational people who value public safety will realize a tax increase that directly benefits our sheriff’s office, police departments, fire departments and a county ambulance service is much-needed.
The safety of this county is in your hands and I hope this shameful situation can begin being remedied.