Sheriff Gary Wall: We can't compromise public safety

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To the citizens of Routt County:

I am very aware of the financial shortfall in the previously projected revenues for Routt County. I have studied my approved budget for 2009, and I am willing to do my part in meeting the county's objectives to reduce expenditures. As the duly elected sheriff - a separate constitutional office - I should be the one to decide where to reduce expenditures so as to allow me to meet my statutory duties and responsibilities, which are to provide public safety and law enforcement to the citizens of Routt County, to protect the safety of my employees and to provide security and safety to the jail population.

I would like to explain the differences in my office compared to offices of other elected officials and agencies in the county headed by department heads and why one size doesn't fit all with regard to across-the-board cuts in staffing and salaries. In addition, the BCC is threatening to reduce or eliminate my employees' medical benefits and retirement plans if I do not agree to the resolutions passed. This is why I am taking such a hard stand against the recent proposals passed by the Board of County Commissioners.

Other offices in the county, with the exception of communications, normally are open five days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. While their services are important, they are not in the same classification as essential and critical. It also is relatively easy to alter their hours or close for a day to reduce costs.

My office is responsible for providing public safety and law enforcement for all the citizens of Routt County. This is a responsibility that exists 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. I also am responsible for the safe, secure operation of the jail for the prisoners, which number from 20 to as many as 70 per day, and for the safety of the deputies who run the jail. The posts that need to be staffed do not change with the number of prisoners we are housing. This is radically different from other services provided by the various offices in the county.

The detention deputies also provide Justice Center security, courtroom security, bookings of arrestees and transportation of prisoners to court hearings. We are required to transport prisoners for medical issues and to other housing facilities in Colorado. We also house individuals for mental health and for detoxification. When staffing needs arise for situations such as transports, medical issues, employee sick time or vacation time, deputies are required to work additional hours, which results in overtime or compensatory time, then makes them unavailable for scheduled shifts. To comply with the decision not allowing payment for overtime passed by the Board of County Commissioners, I will not be able to staff my jail to provide security for the prisoners and assure the safety for my jail deputies. This is why one size does not fit all.

Last year, we submitted to the Board of County Commissioners an analysis of our staffing in the jail and justice center using a formula provided by the U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Corrections, as it relates to security and safety. Because we knew that we are operating without the appropriate number of deputies, we encouraged them to hire an independent professional to analyze our department. A request for proposal for an independent analysis was sent out, and we received bids from two companies. Interviews were arranged to select one of these companies. Two days before the interviews, the Board of County Commissioners canceled the meetings. Did they cancel the meetings because they didn't want to see the results? I still support the need for an independent expert to analyze security and the safety needs of the justice center and the jail and the staffing needs of my patrol division.

The same issues relate to the staffing of patrol deputies. It is essential that we have at least two deputies on patrol at any given time. This is for the safety of the deputies and to provide a minimum level of public safety and law enforcement to the citizens of Routt County. Routt County is more than 2,200 square miles and has approximately 950 miles of public roads. Currently, I am not allowed to pay overtime for deputy court appearances, special investigative cases and unforeseen public safety issues, which means I have to give compensatory time off to the deputies, resulting in dramatically reduced hours - or no hours at times - for public safety presence in the county.

It is well-known that there is an increase in the need for law enforcement and that public safety issues increase during economic hard times like we are experiencing now. In times like these, public safety needs to be fortified not diminished.

The city of Steamboat Springs granted an exemption to the Steamboat Springs Police Department, fire department and transit department as it relates to the furlough program they instituted, to protect the man hours of the public safety departments. For the same reasons, this exemption should apply to the Routt County Sheriff's Office. Public safety should not be compromised.

I hope in the near future that I will meet with the Board of County Commissioners to work out a solution, so I can continue to provide an adequate level of public safety to the citizens of Routt County and to provide an adequate level of backup and safety for my jail deputies and the patrol deputies who are providing the public with safety. There are other things I should be doing or need to be doing in the office in which I was entrusted, but nothing is more important than dealing with the safety of the public and the safety of my employees.

I want to hear from the citizens of Routt County. I welcome your questions and comments. Call me at my office 970-879-1090, or better yet, my cell phone at 970-846-1100.

Gary Wall

Routt County sheriff

Comments

tcb 5 years, 3 months ago

Okay. Makes sense. But why wait until now? Why did Wall not fight this battle privately much earlier in order to gain the concessions? Why could this not have been handled outside the newspaper and public like the city of Steamboat Springs handled it? The arguments are well-founded, but this should've been handled long ago.

And if Wall wants autonomy over budget cuts, then make some that total more than $30,000. That's a worthless gesture in face of a $4.5 million dollar budget.

Maybe all involved will grow up and solve this problem?

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Scott Wedel 5 years, 3 months ago

Sounds reasonable enough. I just have one question and a followup. The budget 5 years ago was $3.1M and law enforcement was generally considered to be acceptable and now it is $4.6M, an increase of nearly 50%, and so have costs really increased 50% (compounded 9% annual increase). And if so then will there continue to be a 9% annual increase required?

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Terry Noble 5 years, 3 months ago

Perhaps better judgment will be used in the next election for a Sheriff!

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Russell Orms 5 years, 3 months ago

Walls comments at first make sense. The problem is that he alone is determining what level of law enforcement, staffing etc that is required. His budget has increased substantially during the past few years. Did we not have law enforcement during those years? His gesture of a $30,000 reduction is a slap in the face of all workers and officials who are trying to deal with the budget shortfall. It's all about him and his judgement of what is needed. His arrogance is overwhelming.

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Suz 5 years, 3 months ago

I find it hard to believe that this article and the one on what the sheriff's department would like to charge Oak Creek have come out on the same day. Yes, Sheriff Wall's arrogance is indeed overwhelming. No, one size does not fit all. I believe that is what the other county departments also stated. This is what they also fought for. I do not believe the debate was ever over cutting their performance or putting the public at risk. It is about cutting waste in their departments. It is about bringing all departments in line with the budget. If the other departments can find a way so can the sheriff.

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