Sunday Focus: Sheriff requesting more to hire 4 new deputies

Published 12:01 am Sunday, August 17, 2014

(Illustration by Rod Guajardo / The Natchez Democrat)

(Illustration by Rod Guajardo / The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — Adams County Sheriff Chuck Mayfield’s recent request for more manpower comes from an apparent increase of calls deputies are responding to within city limits.

The additional call volume led the sheriff to ask for a budget increase from the county’s board of supervisors this year in order to hire four new patrol deputies.

But the city’s police chief says his department is more than capable of answering those calls — if they are properly notified.

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The proposed administrative budget is approximately $2.8 million, up from the current year’s $2.79 million budget. Mayfield said the only proposed change to the budget is for the new deputies.

The sheriff has also requested a raise for his employees, which — paired with the request for new deputies — is a request he has made consistently since taking office.

When making the request to the board of supervisors, Mayfield said the new deputies — which would come to one new officer per shift — were needed because the office is responding to a higher volume of calls within the city limits of Natchez requesting assistance from the sheriff’s office.

“I know there has always been this unofficial agreement that the Natchez Police would respond to calls inside the city and the sheriff’s office would take care of the county, but the people in the city vote for me, too, and are certainly entitled to (the ACSO’s) services,” Mayfield said.

“If the people in the city want the sheriff’s office to work their cases, I am not complaining, but I am asking for the manpower.”

But Natchez Police Chief Danny White said the police department already has the manpower to answer those calls.

“If the citizens call there, they should refer the call back here because we’re capable of handling each and every call in the city,” White said. “But if a citizen calls the sheriff’s office, and we don’t know about it, we can’t go to the calls that we don’t know about.”

The ACSO’s call log software allows the sheriff’s office to note responses to different geographical areas, which the software designates as “neighborhoods.” In 2012, the office added a new neighborhood, “City of Natchez,” which is tagged any time deputies respond to a call within the Natchez municipal limits.

Prior to then, the sheriff’s office did not specifically track the number of calls response within the city.

Included within that tag is the sheriff’s office’s headquarters and jail, located in downtown Natchez at 306 State St.

An ACSO spokesperson said items responded to at the State Street address can include walk-in complaints of people who live inside or outside the city limits. The designation can also include walk-in arrests and indictments or transfers of prisoners from the city. The spokesperson said all of those responses require the presence of a deputy.

From Aug. 1, 2012, to Aug. 1, 2013, the ACSO responded to 327 calls inside the city limits, or approximately 0.9 in-city calls a day.

Of those calls, 116 originated from other locations within the city and 211 were in-building responses at the sheriff’s office on State Street.

For the same period in 2013-2014, the ACSO responded to 485 calls in the City of Natchez, or 1.3 a day.

A total of 184 calls originated outside the sheriff’s office building, while 301 were initially in-building responses.

Mayfield said one of his administrative deputies, Sgt. Cal Green, is a certified officer and handles walk-in complaints in addition to her office duties.

“She does anything she can handle to keep a patrol deputy from having to come in to the office, and sometimes she has gone out (into the field),” he said.

In the period from 2012-2014, calls that originated inside the city limits but outside the sheriff’s office building grew from approximately 0.32 calls per day to approximately 0.5 calls per day, or from an additional call every three days to an additional call every two days.

In 2013, the sheriff’s office responded to 13,048 total calls. The Natchez Police Department responded to 22,641 calls in 2013.

Mayfield said that while the growing percentage of in-city calls appears small, they are in addition to any other responses the sheriff’s office has to make.

“When you’re looking at the Natchez Police Department, their coverage area is very concentrated; you can drive a few blocks and cover 200 people,” Mayfield said. “My deputies have to cover a much larger area to do that, and they have to go to some places that are so far off they’re actually off the map. Having to respond to a call in the city pulls them away from that.”

The sheriff said when one of his dispatchers notes that a call originates within the city, they politely ask the caller if they would rather the police department handle the call.

“A lot of times, the person will say, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t realize,’ and we transfer the call to the city, but sometimes they say, ‘No, I want the sheriff’s office,’” Mayfield said.

White said he understands some residents might want the sheriff’s office to respond to a call, but also said he feels the police department should be notified either way.

“We’re not going to be upset about that because we realize there’s nothing we can do if some people want them to go out, but we should know about those calls,” White said. “Sometimes we do get the call rerouted, and they also respond. So they still make a report, but it’s our case.”

If the police department isn’t notified or doesn’t have the opportunity to respond to calls within the city, White said residents might start believing the department doesn’t have the proper resources.

“We’re more than capable of handling any call or case,” White said. “You can assure you’re getting your money’s worth in the city, because I know we can handle all these calls.”

The sheriff said the need for additional deputies is simply a logistics issue.

Mayfield said he does not believe a resident making a call from anywhere in the county should have to wait more than 20 minutes for a deputy, and having an extra patrol officer could help with that expectation.

Some calls — such as domestic violence — require at least two officers because they don’t know what kind of situation they are walking into until they arrive on the scene, Mayfield said, but placing two officers in each patrol vehicle might prove counterproductive.

“You don’t want two deputies to have to run out to every piddling dog call and then you get something major or violent going on and you’ve got two of your deputies tied up on this dog call,” he said.

Starting salary for a new deputy is $14 to $15 an hour, depending on experience, a starting pay Mayfield said he inherited from the previous administration. The sheriff said he has “absolutely no idea” how it compares to other counties.

Franklin County Sheriff James Newman said starting salary for deputies is negotiable, but ranges from $26,000 to $30,000 — or approximately $12.50 per hour to $14.42 per hour — depending on experience.

In addition to the 16 patrol deputies who respond to calls across four shifts, the ACSO has five investigators. Mayfield said he does not think their workload would realistically allow for them to be placed into a patrol rotation.

The sheriff’s office’s administration spent approximately $2.75 million in the 2012-2013 fiscal year, and approximately $2.4 million in 2011-2012. In fiscal year 2009-2010 — during which Mayfield was elected and took office but did not prepare the budget — the administration was budgeted $2.7 million but only spent approximately $2.5 million of that.

In 2009, the sheriff’s office was budgeted $2.3 million and spent approximately $2.1 million of the total budget.

Mayfield said he realizes the budget has increased even as the county’s population has declined.

In 1980, the county’s population was 38,035. By 1990, it was 35,356 and a decade later it was 34,340. The 2010 census put the county’s population at 32,297, and the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 estimate puts the county at 32,122 residents.

“We are responding to more calls than we were 30 years,” Mayfield said. “I’m no sociologist, I can’t explain why, but we are.”

The other reasons for the increase include keeping up with inflation and keeping the sheriff’s office up-to-date technologically to keep things efficient, Mayfield said.

“The cost of operating goes up perpetually,” he said.

“When I started and was running radio, you wrote everything down on paper by hand. The times move on, but we are getting way more calls than in 1983.”