Pottawatomie County sheriff’s deputies could soon take on extra transport duties for juvenile delinquents, which the sheriff fears will force him to juggle duties of deputies and cause residents to wait longer for a deputy to respond, especially to non-emergency calls. In some cases, the sheriff says reports may have to by done by telephone.

Pottawatomie County sheriff’s deputies could soon take on extra transport duties for juvenile delinquents, which the sheriff fears will force him to juggle duties of deputies and cause residents to wait longer for a deputy to respond, especially to non-emergency calls. In some cases, the sheriff says reports may have to by done by telephone.

A pending contract to change management operations at Carter Hall Juvenile Detention Center means the transporting of juvenile delinquents would become the responsibility of the sheriff’s office by state statutes.

Sheriff Mike Booth said commissioners are wanting to provide more services to juveniles by changing services, but he is more worried about the protection of Pottawatomie County residents and having enough deputies on patrol and ready to respond to an array of emergency and public service calls.

“I’m thinking of the families and the kids out there that I need to take care of,” Booth said. “My priorities are more in line with the residents out in the county more than resolving issues at the juvenile detention center.”

With 15 full-time field deputies split up to cover 24-hour shifts, Booth said there could sometimes be five or six deputies on duty at once, but most often, there are usually two to three deputies on duty to cover the entire county.

If one or two deputies on duty have to be pulled aside to transport a juvenile to court, to another juvenile center, or to a doctor visit or mental evaluation, Booth said those deputies won’t be available for normal patrols or emergency calls, so it creates a juggling situation for coverage, which impacts public safety.

“It means longer response times,” Booth said, adding anything that’s not an extreme emergency or a priority call would have to wait.

Any remaining deputy or deputies still on patrol while others are on transports will have to remain free for a priority-type call, such as a burglary or domestic disturbance in progress, Booth said. If that’s the case, those needing to make non-emergency reports, such as a vandalism, might find they have to wait much longer for a deputy to respond, Booth said, or they might even have to do a report over the phone rather than a deputy responding in person.

“I don’t want to do that,” Booth said, adding he’s worried commissioners aren’t understanding what’s all involved.

“I don’t think the seriousness of this is sinking in,” Booth said.

Not only is this an issue to the public the deputies serve, Booth said it’s a safety issue for deputies on duty that may need backup.

“I’m extremely concerned,” Booth said.

County commissioners, who contend the proposed management change for Carter Hall is a good move as both a cost-saving measure and for the betterment of juvenile delinquents, have said they will try to help the sheriff with additional funds for a transport deputy at budget time. Despite that, Booth is still worried about the burden these extra duties will create and said he doesn’t have funding for these transports.

“I have zero money to do that,” he said, adding this situation is essentially an unfunded mandate.

Although the Office of Juvenile Affairs will reimburse time and some mileage to the sheriff for juvenile transports, those figures aren’t near enough to fund the salary of an extra deputy, Booth said.

County commissioners first discussed the proposal in February and began negotiations for a contract. At a meeting April 1, commissioners listened to the sheriff’s concerns but appeared steadfast in moving forward with the management change, although they tabled the item to allow District 2 Commissioner Randy Thomas to fully read the contract.

That contract calls for Community Works to pay Pottawatomie County $2,000 rent per month for use of Carter Hall, which sits near U.S. 177 and Acme Road.

District 1 County Commissioner Melissa Dennis said the pending contract will save the county money, including housing fees for Pottawatomie County juveniles. The county currently pays the jail trust $33 per day to house each juvenile, but instead will pay between $18 to $19 per day to house each one with Community Works, she said.

Dennis feels the management change “is a positive move” and any worries about the juvenile transports can be resolved as they’ve always worked with the sheriff.

“I don’t foresee any budget problems,” she said. “This will be a cost saving to the county — that’s a definite.”

Dennis, who said all elected officials are having to run their offices more efficiently, said the savings with the contract change should provide some funding that could be considered.

Based on a recommendation from Jail Director Sid Stell, Booth said an additional $50,000 per year is a good figure to start with as what he could need to fund extra personnel for juvenile transports.

Booth, who feels confident the commissioners will try to work with him, said it’s his job to make the commissioners understand his position for the public’s safety.

“I worry about the sense of priorities and my priorities are to the public,” he said.

Dennis said she sees the concerns and feels certain they can work out a compromise.

“I think public safety should be one of our top priorities,” Dennis said. “But it’s all a business too.”

“We’re gonna have some bumps in the road at first,” she added.

District 3 Commissioner Eddie Stackhouse still believes the Community Works contract is best for the juveniles in this district, indicating judges also are in favor of their services.

“I’m in this for the children’s sake,” Stackhouse said, adding it’s about rehabilitating the juveniles who commit crimes before they turn to a life of crime and become adult offenders.

“We have to try to get them out of one system before they get to another,” he said. He believes helping the children now will save money in the long run.

“Our system is getting fuller and fuller,” Stackhouse said. “We’re trying to open more opportunities for Carter Hall.”

While Stackhouse acknowledges the sheriff sometimes having 2-3 deputies on duty at one time is a “low amount,” he feels they can come up with a solution to provide him additional manpower come budget time. A new fiscal year begins in July.

And while people want response times as soon as possible for deputies, Stackhouse believes there’s a way to balance it all without jeopardizing safety.

“I think it could be worked out… I’m trying to help the county the best way I can,” he said. “It’s all about communication.”

Thomas said after touring facilities, he’s convinced that Community Works is in the “kid business” and this change will provide better chances for juvenile offenders at Carter Hall.

But he also is concerned for the sheriff.

If this is going to be a burden on the sheriff’s office, “we need to support the sheriff all we can in this deal,” Thomas said.

County commissioners are expected to consider the Community Works contract during their weekly meeting 1 p.m. Monday at the Pottawatomie County courthouse.

Watch for updates.