Wednesday, April 16, 2014

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Sheriff dealing with more cuts

Patrol challenges among issues faced due to staffing reductions

Bob Wolfe

Bob Wolfe

February 25, 2014

DALLAS — What Polk County Sheriff Bob Wolfe feared would happen after the failure of the county’s public safety levy in November appears to be coming to fruition.

Wolfe announced last week that due to staffing shortages, starting Saturday the sheriff’s office will have new shifts, further reducing coverage at times from the 20-hours-per-day schedule adopted last year.

“Due to the loss of the public safety levy in November and pending budget reductions this July, several employees are leaving for other law enforcement agencies prior to scheduled reductions in July,” Wolfe wrote in a press release announcing the reductions.

Two officers, Deputy David Mills, who is covering a shift that will be eliminated in July, and Sgt. Dustin Newman, who has been with the office since 2001, will soon be leaving the department to take jobs with other agencies in the area.

“The loss of these employees will have a huge impact on our patrol operations, including the loss of training and experience,” Wolfe said.

He added that Mills, Newman and other long-term employees have been loyal to the department, but worsening finances are forcing them to look for more secure jobs.

“I can’t blame them,” Wolfe said. “I can’t offer them any type of stability.”

Wolfe added other deputies have applications pending.

Making matters worse, three more deputies are out on extended medical leave, reducing available patrol deputies after March 1 to five. That’s not enough to run current patrol shifts. Wolfe has been maintaining patrol hours by paying those available overtime to take on extra shifts.

That is no longer an option.

“My overtime budget is almost depleted and I have four more months (in the fiscal year),” he said. “I just have got to quit paying overtime.”

Also, with the jail at absolute minimum staffing, patrol deputies may also have to work court security or jail shifts to cover for illnesses, vacations or staff on leave.

Looking to the future, Wolfe is concerned he will not be able to fill vacancies — even if the positions are in the budget — because of the all-too-real possibly they will be cut in the near future.

“It’s going to be really hard to hire someone knowing that they could be laid off,” he said.

Wolfe said he doesn’t see the situation getting better — in fact he believes it will get worse — unless another source of funding comes through. Eventually, his office may have to narrow its focus significantly.

“At some point I may not have patrol deputies and just have major crimes (detectives),” he said. “I don’t know what the future looks like.”