Significant Changes Underway Under New Administration
By Sid Riley
Lou Roberts has been the "High Sheriff" for Jackson County for ten weeks now. I made an appointment with him this week to see what changes he has implemented after the long, successful regime of John McDaniel.
I discovered that many changes have already been made, some are in the process of being implemented, and others are planned for the future. It is a steady, careful process where Lou is becoming completely familiar with an area of the operation, and then making what changes he feels are needed and justified.
Changes have already been implemented in organization, responsibilities, procedures, scheduling, administration, and a degree of modernization. It is an ongoing process.
Under the previous administration in the uniformed division of the department, the patrol staff was broken into four, 12 hour shift groups, with four Lieutenants, four Sergeants, and four Corporals divided equally with each shift. This has been modified into Two Groups (A & B), which work alternating 24 hour shifts.
Each group has one Lieutenant and two Sergeants. The Sergeants each work as a Watch Commander, working their portion of the group on a 12 hour shift. The Group Commander, the Lieutenant, works from mid-shift of Group A until mid-shift of Group B, thus providing his input into each shift. Deputies within a group can have their specific work hours juggled to provide heavier coverage during peak periods, or to help staff special events. This approach often reduces the need for overtime. A third Lieutenant works at the Sheriff’s facility receiving citizens filing charges, processing felon and sex offender registrations, and handling administration.
Within the facility Sheriff Roberts has rearranged the layout and assignment of offices to better fit his management philosophies. He likes to have his key team members located near his office. He has moved his office up to the front of the facility, into the office previously occupied by Chief Deputy John Dennis. Further down the hallway are the offices of the investigators. Around the corner from his office and next to his office you will find the offices for Chief Deputy Donnie Branch, and the two Captains.
The Uniformed Division has a centralized area near the center of the facility, where all offices and meeting areas for these functions are located. In the back, moved into a quieter, more private area Roberts has moved the administrative functions. The Drug Task Force and Special Projects Forces are also housed in a secure area near the back of the facility. The Communications Center is up front on the West side of the building.
Sheriff Roberts is in the process of increasing the level of modernization of various processes within the function. He has discontinued use of a Polaroid camera system for taking registration photos and booking mug shots. A digital photography system is now in use.
The deputies in the field complete required reports and administration on lap tops while in the field, down load these onto discs which are transported to the main facility. This reduces time lost in travel to and from the office for administration, and yields more patrol or field work time. They hope to eventually have systems in place that will allow direct transmission of this data.
Lou has begun to aggressively attack problems with the communications systems used by the patrol deputies and fire and rescue. There are several "dead spots" for communications in the county. He obtained the go-ahead from the County Commission this week for placing a booster for communications on the water tower in Sneads, which hopefully will eliminate one of the worse problem areas.
He has initiated a patrol vehicle leasing concept which will enable him to immediately replace ten aging units which are now in use. Approval for this new approach was approved by the Commissioners at this week’s meeting.
In the Communications and Dispatch Center, he hopes to eventually install the GPS monitoring system that allows tracking of every vehicle from the main office. This will aid dispatchers in directing response, and will improve management of activities.
A portion of the booking process was moved to Jackson Jail by McDaniel, but Roberts hopes to eventually have the entire process occur there. At present, the suspects still have to be first taken to the Sheriff’s Office for researching of computer information on outstanding warrants. Eventually, computer linkage could make it possible for this research to occur at the Jail.
When asked about the future of the helicopter unit, Roberts stated it is still under evaluation. "The final outcome will depend on budgeting in the future and what we determine to be the main priorities", Roberts stated.
Sheriff Roberts plans to soon begin conducting community "town meetings" to encourage stronger ties between his function, citizens, and community leaders. Also, he plans to better organize use of the Auxiliary Force and the Junior Deputy Force. He plans to keep all forces out in the field as much as possible, and the public should see a more visible Sheriff’s function.
A lot has already been done, and much remains to be done. Lou Roberts is a very busy man these days….but he loves every minute of it.