The magic number: County searches for balance of deputies, budget

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 4, 2006

County officials are &8220;back to square one&8221; after straying from the results of a study to help determine the number of deputies needed by the Shelby County Sheriff&8217;s Office.

A representative of the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama presented the study to members of the County Commission&8217;s public safety committee last week.

The study would not serve as a useful tool in determining staffing needs, Sheriff Chris Curry told Commission Chairman Lindsey Allison after the presentation &8212; returning the focus of the meeting to the question budget-makers have been asking since the county&8217;s population boom: How many deputies are enough?

&8220;Philosophically, I believe public safety should be the first priority of government,&8221; said County Commissioner Earl Cunningham. &8220;But the last thing we want is to have a budget deficit so that we would have to go to the citizens for taxes.

&8220;This commission won&8217;t have it,&8221; Cunningham said.

With no national standards to guide the staffing of law enforcement bodies, the county commission turned to PARCA for a study of the Shelby County Sheriff&8217;s Office.

PARCA used data to compare Shelby County to similar sheriff&8217;s offices in the southeast and create a model for forecasting staffing needs.

The study also provided examples of the use of non-sworn officers in other sheriff&8217;s offices.

Shelby County ranked sixth in the total number of sworn officers per 10,000 population with 5.9, according to the report, which compared 12 counties based on 2004 data.

Shelby County&8217;s ratio of 9.3 total employees per 10,000 population ranked 11th.

But comparative analysis might not be the best way to determine staffing needs for Shelby County, Commissioner Ted Crockett said, as counties could each have different expectations concerning the appropriate level of service.

For Shelby County that level is high, Curry said, and an increasing challenge considering the growth of the county.

The Shelby County Sheriff&8217;s Office received nearly a 25 percent increase in calls, officials said.

Sheriff&8217;s officials passed out a sheet outlining 17 &8220;unaddressed work areas&8221; during the meeting.

Among those were:

-Eight additional school resource officers to be placed in each school within county jurisdiction. There are currently two.

-A deputy assigned to sex offender notification and compliancy. There is currently no full time staff assigned to sex offenders.

-A deputy assigned to warrant detail. There is currently no full-time staff assigned to handle more than 8,500 warrants.

-A deputy assigned to Shelby County Drug Court. A deputy assigned to drug court was re-assigned due to budget limitations.

Sheriff&8217;s officials and the public safety committee agreed to go back to the drawing board to hammer out a solution. Allison said she

would look into a suggestion from Curry that the sheriff&8217;s office receive a set annual percentage of county revenue