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Sheriff asks for $1 million budget boost

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office proposes to increase its expenditures by $1 million in the coming fiscal year as it responds to more calls for service, higher crime rates and an overflowing jail.

Sheriff Nathan Sickler outlined challenges and goals for his department during a Tuesday presentation before the Jackson County Budget Committee.

He hopes to win the committee’s approval to add one deputy to work on high-tech crimes plus a second deputy to help with the rising number of search-and-rescue incidents. Combined with other added expenses, the budget would climb from almost $31.6 million to $32.6 million.

The 292-bed Jackson County Jail continues to be a top concern and represents the weakest link in the local criminal justice system, Sickler said.

“The jail is still not adequately serving our valley,” he said.

Of the 14,004 lodgings and bookings at the jail in 2017, almost half resulted in early release because of overcrowding or because suspects were deemed to be of lower risk, according to sheriff’s office statistics.

Sickler reopened the basement level of the jail in April 2017, a move that increased the number of beds.

Previous Sheriff Corey Falls had closed the basement because he said it could not be staffed without forced overtime and because staff members were falling behind on training requirements.

The sheriff’s office continued to struggle in staffing the jail in 2017, logging 19,000 hours of overtime.

“They’re very busy, very dedicated, but we wouldn’t like to see that as a trend,” Sickler said of the overtime figure.

He said the sheriff’s office is currently fully staffed, but injuries to several jail staff members left the corrections division short-handed.

A recent survey commissioned by the county found voters were not supportive of a proposal for a $100 million jail construction bond and formation of an accompanying law enforcement district. The measures floated in the survey would build a 1,000-bed jail and pay for the increased costs of operations.

Law enforcement agencies statewide are facing a wave of retirements in coming years, but the sheriff’s office is working to avoid future staffing problems by keeping a list of viable candidates, Sickler said.

The sheriff’s office reinstated its traffic team, which currently has four members, with two focused on driving under the influence of intoxicants cases.

DUII arrests increased from 250 in 2016 to 320 in 2017.

The increased enforcement was accompanied by reduced traffic fatalities. Traffic fatalities fell from 34 in 2016 to 18 in 2017, according to Jackson County Justice of the Peace Joe Charter, who handles many local traffic tickets.

“Certainly having the traffic team reinstated has made a difference,” Charter said during the Tuesday budget meeting.

The sheriff’s office is seeing more calls for service and higher crime rates, Sickler said.

Burglary reports grew from 279 in 2016 to 474 in 2017, according to sheriff’s statistics.

Detectives investigated 28 sex offenses in 2016, but that number jumped to 140 investigations in 2017, statistics show.

Across the county, more people are getting lost.

Jackson County Search and Rescue had 120 missions in 2016. Missions increased to 174 in 2017, according to sheriff’s office statistics.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.