Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Bosque Sheriff in a jam over substandard jail, budget

“There's a possiblity we could lay people off...”

Meridian - Chief Deputy Curt Flood took to the podium to give the Republican Club a rundown on how things are at his department.

Fresh from a defeat of a $10 million jail bond issue in November, Deputy Flood told the throng of about 50 GOP faithful that the lights went out last night at the jail, a facility the Texas Commission on Jail Standards has threatened to close for the past 10 years over various issues. For now, it's in compliance – just barely.

When the juice went out, it was because of the building's antiquated electrical system, not the power company. Dispatchers were unable to field 9-1-1 calls or to contact area police and fire departments for an extended period.

Two electrical contractors finally isolated the problem after an hour's work at the late hour of 11 p.m. They had to send to Texarkana to get the part they needed to make the proper repairs.

“They said they hadn't seen one of those in awhile,” Deputy Flood said ruefully.

The facility is presently housing 35 prisoners with an additional 10 in the Hill County Jail on a per diem basis that has cost taxpayers about $87,000 so far this budget year.

With a staff of 10 certified peace officers and corrections staff, the department is able to field only 2 deputies to patrol the 1,000 square miles that comprise Bosque County.

What with budgetary uncertainties, “There's a possibility we could lay people off,” he said.

It's not something he relishes. “I can't afford to lose one deputy or one dispatcher or jailer,” he said in a grave tone.

The annual budget is down $100,000 from $1.4 million to $1.3 million, with a jail expenditure of $618,000.

Though overall crime is down, what with hard times, domestic violence is up – the highest incidence of crime in the county – and burglaries are on the climb, placing at second.

Other than that, things are just fine.

What to do?

Field a force of volunteers to take up a citizen crime watch in rural areas, each equipped with a Sheriff's Department radio.

It's a possiblity.

A hostile question came out of the audience.

"Why do you have to have a radio? Why couldn't they just carry a phone?

"Do you want to pay for that phone?" Deputy Flood asked. Yes, the elderly man said. The deputy said he has obtained a dozen handheld radios and an additional dozen mobile radios from another department - all free of charge. The crowd laughed.

It's about the infrastucture, the salaries, not the radios, it seems.

When the time came for questions, the same elderly man, an individual who attends all the meetings – an individual totally opposed to “building a hotel for these people” - spoke up and suggested the sheriff use the “hot bunk” system once employed on Navy submarines. This way, a sailor got up to go on his shift and his bunk mate took to the same rack.

“Why can't y'all do that?”

Deputy Flood stood quietly for a moment, then answered, in a neutral tone, his accent a pronounced prairie twang straight out of Chicago.

“Because the law says every person has to have a bed...Besides, we have people in jail who need to be in a cell by themselves.”

But the man persisted, his questions beginning to take on the strident tone of harassment. He usually harps on how Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Phoenix puts his prisoners in tents.

“Look, the law says we have to do it this way,” Deputy Flood said. “Hey, I don't write the laws. I just obey them.”

1 comment: