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Sheriff's Dept. hurt by lack of manpower

by Paul Darst

STAFF WRITER

Thanks to a recent federal grant, the Harrison County Sheriff's Department is now able to hire two new deputies.

But it will be a while before the officers are able to perform their duties.

Sheriff Wayne Godwin had hoped for two or three seats in the State Police Academy training class that starts Monday.

But he only got one.

"We'll just send one deputy who was hired at the first of the year," Godwin said. "We didn't get more (seats) because they have a backlog."

All new county and municipal officers must take the three-month academy course within a year of being hired, Godwin said.

Until they take the class, new hires have limited duties, he said.

"Right now, (the new deputy) is just working to relieve our court security people," Godwin said. "He can't make arrests until he's certified."

Godwin had hoped for more seats for the class because of impending staff shortages, he said.

"We have six deputies tied up (Thursday) with prisoner transports," he said. "We only have the chief deputy and lieutenant who can go out on calls."

Deputies had so many prisoner transports Thursday because of arraignments in circuit court. Both court divisions plus other duties keep deputies busy.

"We have 2,000 warrants that need to be served," he said.

"There are a million things to do."

And the problem will get worse next year. The department will have to provide bailiffs for a new circuit court division, the family law master and maybe magistrate court, he said.

Deputies also might be needed for courthouse security, although Godwin has suggested hiring retired police officers to carry out that duty.

With courthouse security and budgetary constraints common these days, the problem is not unique to Harrison County, Godwin said.

"Just about every county is having to deal with this," he said.

Some relief will come when new hires become certified, Godwin said. And he has a list of other qualified candidates to hire when funds become available.

But the scheduling crunch will last for at least this year. The next police academy class will begin in October.

Staff writer Paul Darst can be reached at 626-1404.

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