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Sheriff's department seeks another full-time deputy

More than one-third of each week's shifts have just single deputy on duty

January 18, 2012
Of the 168 hours in the week, there are 64 with only one Crawford County sheriff's deputy on duty to cover the county's 308.72 square miles. That is eight of the sheriff's department 21 eight-hour shifts each week.

Sheriff Tim Wilkerson and Chief Deputy Shawn Scott recently approached the board of commissioners and county council for approval and funding to add another full-time deputy to bring the total, not counting Wilkerson, to eight, ensuring each shift is covered by at least two deputies. They said adding another deputy not only would provide better police protection to residents, but would increase the safety of officers.

The county's population — 10,713, according to the 2010 U.S. Census — hasn't grown, but traffic through the county has, with the new S.R. 37, which makes it easier for visitors to get to Patoka Lake and the French Lick Casino Resort, which opened in late 2006, from Interstate 64, joining I-64 and state roads 237, 64, 66 and 62 as major corridors in the county.

At the same time, the Indiana State Police has reduced the number of troopers assigned to the county, and the two who are also must patrol several other counties. The ISP, Scott said, also has put a greater emphasis on road patrols, increasing the number of incidents to which the sheriff's deputies are called.

With the increased load (the sheriff's department was called to 543 incidents in November and 453 in December, more than six times as many as the Emergency Medical Service, the second most called agency in the county), the likelihood of at least two serious situations occurring when only one deputy is on duty also has increased.

Such a situation occurred just last month, Scott said. While the on-duty deputy was working a vehicle crash at Alton, the sheriff's department received a call of a shoplifter at a gas station in Marengo. At the same time, a domestic incident at Temple was reported.

"So, now we have three incidents occurring that all require a law enforcement officer's immediate attention, physical presence at that location," he said.

In that case, Scott, who was off-duty and home at the time, heard the shoplifter dispatch on his police radio and went to Marengo.

There are times, he said, when even two officers on duty at the same time isn't enough. He pointed to Jan. 2, when early-morning snow caused multiple vehicle crashes on I-64 and elsewhere in the county.

Another full-time deputy would give Wilkerson the flexibility to schedule a third officer during busier times, although doing so still would leave just one deputy on duty for a couple of shifts, likely on Saturday or Sunday, Scott said.

"Ultimately, one full-time, one part-time would take care of our shift problem," he said. "Two part-time with the ability to work 40 hours would cover those lost shifts."

However, the latter still would make it difficult to have two officers on duty when someone is on vacation or calls in sick, he said.

The commissioners, at their Dec. 29 meeting, said they understand the need for another deputy — District 2 Commissioner Randy Gilmore even asked, "Is one person enough?" — but instead opted to approve two part-time positions contingent on funding approval from the county council.

The council, at its meeting on Jan. 3, said that, while it agrees that an additional officer would benefit the county, its hands are tied since it already passed the 2012 budget. Scott said the council indicated the sheriff's department would need to reduce its budget to offset the added cost.

A full-time deputy earns $30,000 in annual salary, and benefits, according to the Auditor's office, can cost up to $20,000 per year, bringing the total cost of a full-time position close to $50,000.

"I don't have it," Wilkerson said. "I've cut myself down to the bare bones."

He said adding a part-time deputy or two wouldn't solve the problem. Most, Wilkerson said, already would have a primary job, meaning they would be limited on when they could work.

Scott added that the county wouldn't save any money in salary — just benefits — because a part-time deputy, since they would have the same training as full-time officers, should be paid the same hourly wage.

In addition, both said a full-time deputy likely would be more committed to the department since it would be their primary job, adding stability to the department.

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