A pending contract for management of Carter Hall Juvenile Detention Center prompted the Pottawatomie County Sheriff and Undersheriff to air concerns to county commissioners Monday that the move will require deputies to take on juvenile transport duties, which will remove deputies from field patrols and could affect response times to the public.
On Feb. 25, Pottawatomie County commissioners approved entering into contract negotiations with Community Works to take over management of Carter Hall, with the final contract considered for approval Monday.
Commissioner Melissa Dennis said they asked the sheriff, judges and other officials to attend the meeting with any questions, which prompted much more discussion on the issue.
The Pottawatomie County Public Safety Center Trust has managed Carter Hall, which sits adjacent to the Pottawatomie County Public Safety Center, since the new jail was built about 10 years ago, with the county subcontracting management to the trust on a yearly basis.
Commissioners, after much research, had an outside company, Community Works, based in Norman, make a presentation earlier this year about providing management services instead.
Currently, Carter Hall, as operated by the trust, handles its own transports of juveniles, including taking juveniles who are in custody back and forth to court, to doctor appointments or any needed evaluations.
Community Works does not provide transports and will instead revert to state statutes, which puts those duties onto the sheriff's office.
Undersheriff Travis Palmer said such juvenile transport duties being transferred to the sheriff's office means a deputy will have to be taken off patrol to transport a juvenile if they need medical care, or in some cases, a mental evaluation.
"Any kids with medical, we have to transport," Palmer said. "That ties deputies up that we don't have with a vehicle I don't have."
At budget time, Palmer said transports for juveniles wasn't known about or put into the sheriff's budget, putting the sheriff's office at a "distinct disadvantage."
But James Johnson from Community Works said while the sheriff's office provides transports, they often provide staff or supervision at these doctor visits.
"I still have to provide a deputy, a car and fuel," Sheriff Mike Booth told commissioners. "It will be a huge burden on us."
Johnson said the state's Office of Juvenile Affairs would reimburse the sheriff's office for transports.
Booth, who said the management change ultimately puts an unfunded mandate onto his office, said the costs, while reimbursed some from OJA, won't cover the actual costs involved, plus it removes deputies from patrol or taking emergency calls.
"The most important thing is to keep deputies in the field to take calls,' Booth said.
Booth said from July 2012 to now, the trust has handled 93 juvenile transports, as discussion indicated many medical transports for mental evaluation are often in Tulsa. Usually, juveniles are often transported back and forth to court 2-3 times per week, discussion revealed, and last month alone, there were seven juvenile transports out of county.
Page 2 of 3 - Booth's concerns is those transports tie up deputies for hours of drive time plus sitting and waiting for evaluation of the juvenile.
Palmer, who said when a judge issues an order for a transport, "we have no choice — we are the ones taking the hammer."
Booth, who said budget concerns are already an issue, said there's not enough money to fund the additional costs.
From a 911-dispatching standpoint, Tommy Arnold, director of the county's 911 center, said it's important not to take deputies off the street.
"They have more calls than they can handle," Arnold said, including some that are immediate emergency calls.
Commissioner Randy Thomas asked Booth how many deputies are on duty at given time. Booth said while he and the Palmer also take calls, there have been times where two and sometimes three deputies on duty to cover the entire county.
In emergency situations deputies can need back up, Booth said, and some juvenile transports will require two deputies. Booth said he has 15 full-time field deputies to cover 24-hour shifts for the county.
And while Booth said he sometime relies on volunteer reserves that often help out on during off time away from jobs, most are not available during times of transports.
Booth's concern is that pulling a deputy away for transports could means they have people waiting 2-3 hours for a deputy to respond to some calls, with him being at the receiving end of any community complaints as a result.
"I'm just offering concerns before you make a decision," Booth said.
Sid Stell, who is the director of the Pottawatomie County Public Safety Center, and also oversees Carter Hall, said Carter Hall is the only juvenile center in the state that handles its own transports, as set up by previous administrators of the jail.
Stell suggested extra funds from the county could help supplement the sheriff's office for the expected transports.
While Dennis said they could talk the issue back and forth all day, she said she felt the management change would be "nothing but a positive move" for Carter Hall and she didn't feel they "should put the brakes on" because of the concerns, which she said could be worked out.
"Haven't we worked with you in the past — we've always made it work" Dennis told the sheriff. "What we need to do in my opinion is approve the contract," Dennis said.
Dennis said if the transports are too much on the sheriff's office, when budget time comes up, they could look at assisting there or look into an outside transport contract.
Special District Judge Dawson Engle, who had first shared thoughts about needs to place juveniles in custody when no beds are available locally, said he often has to decide which offender is worse and needs to be held. Engle told commissioners that Community Works, with other facilities, might provide more options.
Page 3 of 3 - "Community Works is going to work with us no matter what we choose to do," Dennis said. "I think it's a positive move — we'll have to work out the kinks as we go, We've always worked with the sheriff's office — it's part of working together as a team."
Commissioner Eddie Stackhouse asked the sheriff that if they proceed as things are now, if his office could handle the transports.
"No matter what, we'll do the best we possibly can," Booth said, adding they'll do their best work in a professional manner.
Dennis made a motion to accept the contract, but before there could be a second, or a vote, much discussion continued as they tried to determine a date for the contract to begin that would provide for a smooth transition.
Since Thomas said he hadn't had a chance to fully read the contract, the board decided to hold off and take no action at Monday's meeting, opting to put it on next week's agenda.
Watch for updates.