Stoddard County sheriff asking for voters’ help to keep employees and expand jail

Monday, August 6, 2018

BLOOMFIELD, Mo. — Stoddard County citizens will be presented with two propositions relating to the sheriff’s department when stepping into the voting booth next week.

Proposition 1 is estimated to generate $1.4 million per year for the sheriff’s office to maintain general operational expenses, equipment, vehicles and salaries.

“If I can’t get the wages up and hire and retain good people, we are going to have to go to an emergency call only sheriff’s department,” Sheriff Carl Hefner said.

The starting pay for a deputy at the Stoddard County Sheriff’s Department is $11.62 per hour and according to Hefner, the first proposition would allow the department to be able to compete with area agencies on salaries.

Stoddard County Sheriff’s deputies are the lowest paid law enforcement officials in the county next to Puxico.

Over the last couple months, the sheriff’s department has lost several employees to other agencies in the area, which Hefner said boils down to pay.

“I don’t blame them for leaving,” he said. “They have families to support.”

The first proposition asks for a county wide sales tax of one half of one percent for the purpose of maintaining the Stoddard County Jail and sheriff’s office operations with no sunset.

The second proposition asks for a county wide sales tax of one half of one percent for the purpose of the renovation of the existing jail, construction, equipment and design cost of a jail addition, which would sunset in seven years.

The preliminary funding is estimated to be a little over $9 million.

“A sales tax is the most fair tax because everyone pays the same thing,” Hefner said. “Not only are the people in the county supporting and paying, but also people traveling through the county.”

Proposition 2 can’t pass without Proposition 1 passing, Hefner said, but one can pass without the second passing.

“There is no point in building a new jail and having to hire extra people to man and maintain it if we can’t fund it,” he said.

The sheriff’s office will assume most of the budget to be used from the tax, except 50 percent of the salaries.

This past year, the sheriff’s department had a budget of $1.2 million.

“We can’t operate on $1.2 million and operate the jail,” Hefner said. “This is why I can’t keep deputies, because I can’t pay them and Proposition 1 will take care of that.”

The Stoddard County Sheriff’s Department is operating with four road deputies at this time to cover over 800 square miles, 950 miles of roadways and 29,000 citizens. According to Hefner, the deputy division experiences a 76 percent turnover rate due to the $11.62 an hour pay. For that pay, Hefner said, the employees work nights, weekends, holidays, are spit on and have urine thrown on them by inmates and subjected to assaults and illnesses inside the jail for a small salary.

If the propositions pass, Hefner said he would like to hire an additional four correction officers for the facility and two or three more deputies.

While not sure what the salary increase amount would be at this time, Hefner said he wants it high enough to hire good, qualified individuals and compete with area agencies.

Hefner added the department has to buy equipment needed to do their job on credit, such as body cameras, because the budget does not cover the costs. Many deputies also furnish their own weapons.

The sheriff’s department receives an average of 11,000 calls per year, about 30 calls per day. Not only does the department take phone calls, but also works with the courts serving civil papers.

“Help us help you,” Hefner said. “We want to help. We take an oath to protect and serve the people, but we are going to have to have the man power and equipment to do it.”

Pay for deputies is not the only issue facing the Stoddard County Sheriff’s Department. Overcrowding and safety concerns are also issues the jail has been facing since around 1998 after a second jail addition was constructed in 1991.

County commissioners along with Hefner and Chief Deputy Andy Holden have spent the last several months working with Dale Rogers of Robert Stearns and Associates, Inc. on a jail expansion proposal within the $7 to $8 million range, bringing the jail to a 120-bed facility.

In 1983, a new jail was constructed consisting of eight cells, one isolation cell, one shower, one padded cell, one holding cell, visiting area and booking area.

In 1991, a second addition was constructed of approximately 1,400 square feet. Four additional cells, one shower, one female cell with shower, dispatch area, booking, sheriff’s office, laundry room and one observation cell were added allowing the jail to house a total of 28 inmates.

The average daily inmate population in 1998 was 34 and climbed to 76 in 2017, all in a 28-bed facility.

“It’s not unusual to hold 80 plus inmates,” Hefner said.

With this type of over population comes the issue of space to house the inmates as well as safety concerns with the large amount of inmates in small living quarters.

The jail does not have the capability to segregate anyone being held. Hefner said this meant a 17-year-old with no criminal history who was held on suspicion of possession would be housed with felons, rapists, sex offenders and murders.

Bunks are added to day rooms and inmates sleep on the floors. With inmates sleeping on the floor, the possibility of stepping on someone is higher which leads to fights. Twenty-six females are housed in a six-bed cell and property is easily mixed up, also leading to an increased chance for assaults.

On a security camera, Hefner caught a female inmate climbing over tables in the middle of the night so she would not step on other inmates while getting to the toilet. If the inmate fell and broke a wrist or ankle, Hefner said the county would be the one paying the medical bill.

The jail is mandated to give inmates one hour of fresh air and sunshine a day, but Hefner said that does not happen at the Stoddard County Jail because there is no place for inmates to go and the day room is full of bunks.

The one shower can be pulled away from the wall and sewer water is standing under the building due to the deterioration of the plumbing system.

Inside a 10x10 kitchen, a total of 82,992 meals are served. The dry food storage is kept outside, which trustees must exit the building to obtain, creating a greater risk for escape and receiving contraband.

Many cell doors do not latch because of their age and the parts are now obsolete. Chains and padlocks are used to lock the cells.

The hallways inside the jail are so narrow and full of coolers and items not able to fit in the kitchen, EMS could not fit a backboard down the hallways in the event of an emergency such as an assault involving inmates or officers, Hefner said. The same goes for the fire department.

“Forget about the inmates for a moment,” Hefner said. “Think about the corrections officers who are in there working and haven’t done anything wrong. They are just working and trying to make a living, supporting their family.”

The proposed jail expansion would be located on a lot near the current jail the county has bought from a church and renovations will be done to the existing jail.

The addition will be constructed with a full basement where several of the operations will be located. Those include a booking area with line of sight to three new padded cells and holding cells, industrial kitchen with food prep area, industrial laundry area, secure sally port, cold and dry food storage, inmate property storage, four observation and isolation cells and a holding area for booking.

The main level of construction will include a visitation area for inmates and families, control center for the entire jail where all doors will be operated from as well as line of sight to new pod system, six pods, 48-two man cells with day rooms and an area where defense attorneys, juvenile officers and Division of Family Service employees can meet with their clients prior to court day.

“What price can you pay for protection,” Hefner said. “For pennies on the dollar you can’t put a price on protection and without us, those in the rural areas won’t have protection.”

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