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County officials, police talk prisoner transport

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK -- Public safety issues over prisoner transport to the new regional jail remain unresolved.

Shenandoah County officials and members of the Board of Supervisors discussed possible solutions Thursday with several town managers and chiefs of police as well as representatives from the Sheriff's Office. However, officials agreed everyone needed more time to investigate the issue and to come up with options that may help resolve the matter.

Concerns arose recently among town managers and police chiefs over the loss of local law enforcement coverage in the event an officer needs to take a prisoner from Shenandoah County to the new jail. Town police and deputies with the Sheriff's Office currently take prisoners to the county jail in Woodstock.

Woodstock police Chief E.L. Reiley reiterated his concern about taking officers off the street. Reiley said doing so would affect public safety provided by his department. Town Manager Reid Wodicka concurred.

After nearly two hours of discussion, New Market Town Manager Evan Vass suggested the parties seated around the table come back for another meeting on the matter. Sheriff Timothy C. Carter echoed Vass' suggestion.

"It is a lot to take in for the entire committee," Vass said.

The board doesn't meet in July. Chairman Conrad Helsley said they probably wouldn't have enough time to come up with options to bring the matter back before the board at its Aug. 1 work session.

By the end of the meeting, officials had decided to come up with a list of options that they could discuss at a future meeting. Supervisor Dennis Morris suggested the list also include the pros and cons of each option.

The question remained whether the county should continue to operate the current jail as a temporary holding facility or lock-up area for prisoners. Or, as some county officials suggested, could law enforcement handle the issue by hiring more deputies? Some officials also voiced support for assigning a certain number of deputies to handle transport.

Carter sought direction from other officials as to whether the county should maintain and pay for a lock-up. That direction could help him collect data he could present to the committee.

Supervisor Sharon Baroncelli commented that they needed to look at the cost to run a lock-up facility and, on several occasions, indicated she did not support the option.

Helsley posed options that included the hiring of a part-time deputy who would remain available for an on-call basis to transport prisoners from the county to the regional jail.

Superintendent Robert Mulligan, of the Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail, tried to belay some of the concerns raised in recent weeks over the time it may take authorities to take prisoners from the towns to the facility near Front Royal. Mulligan expressed doubt that transporting prisoners from New Market and other places might take as long as previously estimated.

Either way, town managers and police chiefs voiced concern about officers taken off the streets when they need to transport prisoners to the regional jail.

Mulligan suggested the county use the current jail only for processing and as overflow during circuit court sessions.

Acting County Administrator Mary Beth Price said she thinks many of the transportation issues will fall to the regional jail to cover.

Mulligan said the regional jail would handle fingerprinting and other steps in the booking process as well as medical issues that may arise at the time. Mulligan noted that the jail would have someone available at the time to conduct the breath test for alcohol.

Town police departments have a limited number of officers certified to administer breath tests for blood alcohol content, chiefs acknowledged. This situation already can cause a delay because the police department may need to have a certified officer come to administer the test. Mulligan explained

Price cited data that showed the number of local jails operating across the state have decreased over the years while the amount of regional facilities has increased.

"We're not reinventing anything here," Price said.

Vass pointed out the towns have always had a jail in Woodstock.

"The idea of not having something in Woodstock is new," Vass said.

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

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