Sheriff says increase in calls demonstrates need for deputies

Published 12:04 am Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat — Adams County Sheriff’s office dispatcher Lanese Loyed reaches for the 911 phone on a wall filled with phone sets, each one dedicated to a different phone line and purpose. Loyed answers calls ranging from general inquiries to the sheriff’s office to extreme emergencies. The number of calls in 2011 increased between 6 and 7 percent over 2010.

NATCHEZ — A tape at the Adams County Sheriff’s Office of a dispatcher trying to take a call from a resident exemplifies a need, Sheriff Chuck Mayfield says.

Deputies radioing in, and other phone calls repeatedly interrupt the dispatcher on the call. After a minute, the caller testily asks the dispatcher, “Have you got time for me?”

The dispatcher finally gets a break and explains to the caller that she’s alone and obligated to answer officer and 911 calls before she could take his information.

And the sheriff’s office doesn’t just need dispatchers, Mayfield said — more road deputies are in order as well.

Ben Hillyer | The Natchez Democrat — Dispatcher Lanese Loyed answers a call to the Adams County Sheriff's Office Tuesday morning.

The number of calls the ACSO responded to by sending deputies in 2011 increased between 6 and 7 percent over 2010. The department responded to 6,573 calls in 2011 as opposed to 6,154.

According to the ACSO’s public information office, those numbers don’t reflect 911 calls or other general calls the dispatcher has to take during the course of the day.

“We are really pushing our deputies,” Mayfield said. “They are running from one call after another after another.”

If someone is sick or on vacation, that may mean that only one or two deputies are working a shift. That, Mayfield said, hurts the regular patrol efforts and deputies aren’t able to make as many crime-prevention patrols because they’re constantly responding to calls.

“This is not the sheriff’s office 1972 — this is 2012, and it is totally different,” he said.

Some of the calls the ACSO responds to are of higher priority than others, but even when the ACSO prioritizes them, the calls still have to be checked, Mayfield said.

That means checking everything from reports of shots fired to loose livestock. In 2011, deputies responded to 266 calls of loose livestock, and the sheriff said that any time a deputy responds to such a call, he has to stay on the scene until the animals are contained.

If he could, Mayfield said he would hire four more deputies — one for each shift — tomorrow.

That would allow for more effective patrols and backup for deputies responding to volatile situations. Mayfield said one situation where backup is always a good idea is domestic violence.

“If we don’t have enough people to back us up, eventually somebody is going to get hurt,” he said.

To get extra officers, however, the ACSO budget would have to be amended to account for the new employees, and only the Adams County Board of Supervisors has the authority to do so.

County Administrator Joe Murray said that — though the supervisors have the final say in the matter — the county is not in a place where big budget increases are really possible.

When the Natchez-Adams County School District asked for an increased millage at the beginning of the fiscal year, the board of supervisors voted to absorb that increase so taxpayers would not feel it, Murray said.

“It was tight,” he said. “We did everything we could to meet the millage for the previous year. There really isn’t any wiggle room for anything.”

Even if the ACSO gave the county money back at the end of its last fiscal year, that money is not automatically returned to the department. Instead, it is placed in the county general fund and marked as part of the ending cash balance.

“There is no carryover, it is not like rollover minutes from a cell phone,” Murray said. “That’s not just for the sheriff’s office, that’s for any department or any (county) fund.”

The county has asked all departments to limit spending to emergency spending for the time being, and Murray said the sheriff’s office will likely have to request the new deputies in the next fiscal year.

So, unless the board of supervisors votes otherwise, deputies will have to wait a little longer for backup, whether responding to shots fired or chasing cows.