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  • Uebelhor

Another sheriff's deputy needed for safety of residents


January 25, 2012
The main responsibility of a government is pretty simple: to ensure the safety of its residents. Without that, nothing else really matters.

In order to keep people safe, adequate police protection is needed. Unfortunately, through no fault of its own, there are times when the Crawford County Sheriff's Department is unable to provide the level of protection that county residents deserve.

The department, with just seven deputies — eight total officers when Sheriff Tim Wilkerson is counted, has just one officer on duty during eight of the 21 eight-hour shifts per week. That means that a single officer is responsible for the entire 308.72-square-mile county 64 of each week's 168 hours.

Wilkerson and Chief Deputy Shawn Scott recently approached both the board of commissioners and county council about hiring another full-time deputy, but, unfortunately, were rejected. The reasoning: lack of money, as a full-time deputy would cost $30,000 in salary and up to $20,000 in benefits.

That is a legitimate concern. If you don't have the money to do something, then you can't do it. However, as often is the case with budgets, it's a matter of priorities.

A few years ago, during a particularly rough economic time, the county put together a committee to make recommendations as to how the county could save money. The recommendations, unfortunately, included cutting personnel from various offices. The county, however, bit the bullet and mandated cuts to the departments. Many of those offices now have as many employees as they did before the cuts.

That is not a bad thing, because, despite comments from people unfamiliar with the duties of the offices, those employees are needed. If you have any doubts, spend a day in the clerk or auditor office or simply five minutes at the treasurer office during tax season.

However, if county officials can find funding to keep those offices adequately staffed (as they should), then they should be able to find the needed funds so that the sheriff's department can have at least two officers on duty at all times.

If the county, with additional revenue from casinos in Harrison, Switzerland and Orange counties (a luxury the majority of the state's 92 counties don't have) as well from the jail housing Indiana Department of Correction prisoners (although the state has reduced the number considerably despite the jail receiving a top inspection rating), is struggling that much financially that it cannot afford another sheriff's deputy, one has to wonder what will happen to the county financially if the gaming revenues go away.

The county already is relying on Orange County gaming dollars to supplement the highway department budget, while also having amended the Harrison County gaming revenue spending plan so that money that was to be used for paving roads can be used for other highway department needs.

The county already relies on other law enforcement agencies in the county, but the two Indiana State Police troopers assigned there also are assigned to several other counties. Only one town — Milltown — has a full-time marshal, and while he does an excellent job of providing assistance, with half of the town being in Harrison County, he must help there, as well. Of the other towns, Leavenworth and English have part-time marshals, but two of the officers also are sheriff's deputies, while another is a county dispatcher, and Marengo's marshal situation is unsettled.

As sheriff, it is Wilkerson's responsibility to fill in when needed, and he does — he was the only county officer on duty on Christmas Eve — but the county is still short.

The county is struggling financially — to suggest otherwise would be disingenuous — but some things are too important to not figure out a way to make them happen.

Adding another sheriff's deputy, to better ensure the safety of residents by having at least two deputies on duty at all times, is one of those.

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Schuler Bauer
Barbara Shaw
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