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Posted May 3, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Sheriff questions study; towns seek input

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK - Efforts to study the Shenandoah County Sheriff's Office remain bogged down by communication issues, a criticized study and a growing list of questions.

The Board of Supervisors learned at its work session on Thursday that Matrix Consulting Group would not produce an addendum to its study of the sheriff's office staffing needs.

Sheriff Timothy C. Carter voiced concerns that the study performed by Matrix Consulting Group did not adequately address the situation created when law enforcement officers leave the towns and the county to take arrested people to the regional jail set to open in Warren County next year.

Several chiefs of town police departments attended the work session and expressed similar concerns.

New Market police Chief Charles M. Peery noted that the town lies 18 miles from the current jail in Woodstock. An officer has to spend time at the jail through the arrest process. A regional jail likely will mean an officer spends even more time waiting through the process, Peery said.

"If we go to the regional jail, nobody's been able to tell us yet what the jail staff's gonna do," Peery said.

Mount Jackson police Chief J.D. Fadley explained that a person arrested in Mount Jackson with a blood-alcohol content of .08 or .09 and legally drunk could sober up enough by the time the officer reaches the regional jail. Also, an officer has to observe a person for 20 minutes before making the subject blow into the Breathalyzer.

Woodstock police Chief E.L. Reiley echoed his peers.

"Whether it's 65 arrests or 665 arrests, if you take the officer out of their community to process an arrest in Front Royal, it's going to jeopardize safety, at least in Woodstock," Reiley said.

Matrix presented the $36,000 study to the supervisors in early April. When Carter raised questions about the document's recommendations, the board advised staff to meet with the consultant to revisit the study and come up with an addendum to address the sheriff's concerns.

Acting County Administrator Mary Beth Price told the board that consultant Robert Finn "said he cannot change the data, so the report is the report and he did not see a benefit in pursuing an addendum."

Carter didn't question the data, but did refute the suggestion that running a local lockup when the regional jail opens would cost the county approximately $700,000 a year. Carter has said a temporary holding facility would not require nearly the staff of a regular jail.

"In my opinion, the Matrix study does not give a realistic figure on what it would cost to operate a temporary holding facility, and I told you that that night," Carter said.

The sheriff said the study does not take into consideration other issues created if the county chooses not to keep a temporary holding facility. For example, an officer would need to travel to the regional jail to obtain an arrest warrant if no such facility exists in the county.

Supervisor David Ferguson said too many questions remain unanswered about the issue.

"I'm not ready to go any further until I hear more now because I'm not going to spend the next seven years, when a decision is made, saying, well this was the wrong decision, it's not realistic and have nothing to back it up," Ferguson said.

The sheriff recalled the board suggested he meet with Price, the consultant and budget manager Garland Miller Jr. to come up with a realistic cost that the county would use in making a decision on whether or not to keep such a facility. Carter said Price told him to meet with Matrix and the board and she would get back to the sheriff with a date. Carter said he had not been advised of a meeting date.

"It's troubling to me that he can do the analysis that he did regarding dispatch and patrol but he couldn't do that for what it would [cost] to operate a holding facility," Carter said.

Helsley asked Carter if he could provide information on the number of arrests made by town police departments. Carter said he didn't bring the information because he did not know the next direction.

The chairman gave information from Finn on the staffing needs of a temporary holding facility in two scenarios. Carter did not receive that information from Finn.

"That's the kind of information we need, Mr. Chairman," Carter said. "I'm surprised he would give you that and not give it to all of us."

Helsley responded by saying that he had asked Finn the question.

Carter said he had asked for the same information at the April meeting when the consultant presented the study.

The sheriff told the board he had a meeting with the chiefs of police of the towns where they discussed the Matrix study. Chiefs asked if they could read the study and provide input, either through town managers or elected leaders, to the board before it makes a decision. Carter noted that at the time he needed to meet with Matrix and county officials before making his own decision.

New Market Town Manager Evan Vass indicated the towns might have been left out of the process. Vass told the board that if the county pursues another study, then the towns should be involved. While the study included some data, Vass said the towns could have provided other information if asked.

Carter said Matrix interviewed police officials with Woodstock.

"It didn't appear that any of the concerns were brought forward in the study," Carter said.

How the courts handle prisoners awaiting appearances also remains an issue for law enforcement. The area in the circuit court building holds approximately six people. Prisoners are taken into the court in groups from the jail via a catwalk. Without the jail, the sheriff would need to find another area to hold prisoners. The court sees an average 18 defendants on three Wednesdays a month, but can see as many as 30 or 40.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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