No taxes, no cops E-mail
Written by Jose Torres   

It's official, folks - public safety funding is a crisis of massive proportions. Just one example among hundreds across the country - a sheriff filed a lawsuit against his own county government in order to stop budget cuts that would have made it impossible to provide services.

Jefferson County, Tennessee Sheriff David Davenport says he took the county to court out of necessity. Sheriff Davenport, who serves as the president of the Tennessee Sheriffs' Association, settled his lawsuit against the County Commission andthe county mayor for an extra $182,000 and attorneys' fees. Davenport worries this is just the beginning. "I wish we didn't have to spend a dollar on the criminal justice system, but my forecast for the future is that we're going to have to spend a lot more," the sheriff told the Knoxville News Sentinel in a recent interview.

"It all gets back to the pie. There's not enough to go around. Usually we in law enforcement get the last slice, and then they want to carve it up so we're not even getting the meringue off the top. But if they need you in an emergency, you'd better be there." Sheriffs around East Tennessee say they're running into the same issues.

"We don't really have time to patrol because of the volume of calls throughout the county," Claiborne County Sheriff David Ray said. "It's more reactive than preventive. We're getting by with the same manpower we've had for years, but we're answering an average of about 1,300 calls per month."

That works out to four or five officers per shift patrolling about 1,700 miles of road in a county of about 30,000 people. Anderson County Sheriff Paul White recently lost a bid to put eight more deputies on the roads after county commissioners said they couldn't afford to do it without a tax increase.

The conservative refrain "no new taxes," has made funding the traditional public safety mission a monumental challenge. Rural counties invest thousands of training and equipment dollars in their officers and then promptly lose them a few years later when they leave for higher salaries with other departments, private security firms or agencies like the Department of Homeland Security. "We've got about $15,000-$18,000 in them by the time we get them certified, pay for their tuition at the state academy and get them outfitted," Campbell County Sheriff Gary Perkins told the News Sentinel's Matt Lakin.

"We've got some great people working here. But the money's not enough. They're young, and they're starting off with families. I don't blame them for leaving." Campbell County jailers start out at a salary of about $22,000, with road deputies starting around $26,300. The sheriff says that's a fraction of what some security firms such as Wackenhut pay. "I've had some that have wanted to come back, but they'd lose too much money," Perkins said.

"It's kind of disheartening." Disputes over personnel costs helped lead to Davenport's lawsuit in Jefferson County. The sheriff said he would have lost four officers under a budget that still doesn't pay deputies overtime. "I just didn't feel like I could do that in good conscience and be able to serve the community," Davenport said.

"I wouldn't even have been able to get new vehicles. And I've already got close to $200,000 in overtime owed to my officers and they have to take as comp time."

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