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Sheriff lists accomplishments since he took office

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This item was submitted by Capt. James Pogue of the Marion County Sheriff's Office.

Since the inauguration of Sheriff Chris Blair, the Sheriff's Office has undergone extensive scrutiny and regeneration began. It started with the hiring of an experienced command staff which included Chief Deputy Fred LaTorre, Major Tommy Bibb and Major Don Maines: returning 134 years of law enforcement experience to the agency while eliminating the need to promote 16 current employees, resulting in a saving of approximately $148,000.

Next was the unprecedented agency review where Blair allowed a cross-section of men and women from the community unrestricted access to all employees to identify deficiencies and make recommendations based on their life experience: civilians like Stan Barfield, a retired airline pilot who reviewed the Aviation Unit; Mike Page and Mrs. Merrell Colchiski, who both possess extensive experience in the field of corrections.

Based on this review and recommendations by the senior staff, the office underwent a reorganization directed at reducing administrative positions while increasing line level positions: "More boots on the ground." Other improvements included reducing District Stations from 14 to 12, and placing half of the district commanders on an afternoon shift to enhance supervisor/officer relationships. In addition, several sergeants were reassigned other duties thus increasing the supervisor to deputy ratio from one to 3.1, to one to 3.8 deputies per supervisor.

A newly-created Crime Suppression Division was formed to include fugitive, property crimes, and tactical/robbery units for targeting street level crimes, reducing calls for service by removing the criminal element from the streets. The combination of these three units provides a 30-member crime suppression team that can be activated at a moment’s notice to respond and augment any patrol function, saving overtime and avoiding disruption of other patrol activities.

Another discovery involved the Property Crimes Detectives (individuals responsible for investigating thefts and burglaries) and the fact that cases were not assigned equally. This unit was restructured from 16 members down to 12, with four members being reassigned to patrol duties. These 12 detectives now make up the Property Crimes component of the Crime Suppression Division. Burglaries for the first quarter of 2013 were down 18 percent over the last quarter of 2012.

The independent annual audit for 2012 conducted by the Purvis & Gray Company, revealed that the Sheriff’s Office had a capital assets value of $29 million; however, the report also reflected an accumulated depreciation value of $24 million. In addition, there is an unfunded liability of $10 million involving compensatory leave, sick leave, and vacation leave. In an effort to begin addressing the compensatory leave balance issue, three sergeants were reassigned from patrol to the Training Division to initiate a new training approach. Under the "combat ready" approach, deputies and detectives will be taken off the road (patrol duties) at random times during their regular work hours to conduct mandatory training while on duty, rather than coming in on their day off and receiving time-and-a-half compensation time, thus reducing this balance. The mandatory training consists of firearms, driving, defensive tactics, and physical fitness.

The Bureau of Corrections also had its share of improvements, which began with a facility-wide security assessment. As a result, several Operations Directives were modified and additional security components were put into place. The use of restraint chairs for inmate and officer safety was redeployed, and tasers were issued to all Corrections Officers.

General management and supervision policies were reviewed resulting in some personnel being transferred or reassigned duties. As an example, the Inmate Work Farm had a captain, a lieutenant and a sergeant supervising two full-time employees and one part-time staff member. The captain and the lieutenant were reassigned to other duties.

Through resignations and retirements involving supervisory positions, the Sheriff will be able to redistribute salaries to hire seven new Corrections Officers.

The Bureau of Special Investigations reduced their command staff by one captain, one lieutenant and one sergeant. New surveillance equipment was purchased and a partnership with the United States Department of Justice was re-established. A multiagency Crime Suppression Task Force involving local, state, and federal agencies was created which conducts monthly operations directed at criminal interdiction activities.

Other initiatives involved re-initiating in-progress call alerts to administrative personnel, eliminating silent dispatch for officer safety, restructuring of the Sheriff’s Telephone Automated Reporting program (STAR), aggressively addressing the evidence backlog, and establishing an active service of existing warrants. In December of 2012, there was a backlog of 6,235 warrants; that number has been reduced to 4,586 as of April, 2013. In addition, Blair has also reinstituted a program to monitor career criminals.

Vacancies and retirements have provided funding to staff 16 line level positions: nine for those leaving, plus the creation of seven new positions allowing us to increase our total authorized positions from 751 to 758. It also allowed additional monies to purchase six patrol vehicles for the Fugitive Unit. Through Blair’s commitment to reduce the “top heavy” organization, he has reduced the base salary expenses for lieutenants and above by $563,751.25 by not filling vacancies or making promotions since taking office on Jan. 8.

Blair has initiated two new programs to enhance services to the community. The first involves a crime-mapping program where deputies can view a computer screen that will reflect “real time” crime information. The “heat mapping system” (as it is referred to) will identify those areas in the Deputies District/Zone where recent criminal activity has been committed thus allowing the Deputies to adjust their patrol efforts accordingly. The second program will involve stand-alone “kiosks” that will be placed at various locations throughout the county. These kiosks will have three computer screens, each broadcasting information and photographs of wanted persons.

Blair appears biweekly on the Buddy Martin Radio Show with Ocala Police Chief

Greg Graham to discuss law enforcement issues affecting our community. Blair has also established a Citizens Academy where citizens from the community can interact with members of the Agency while learning what goes on behind-the-scenes on a daily

basis. Two classes recently completed the course with three more scheduled to begin the end of August.

As you can see, Blair has instituted several cost-saving measures as well as elements for improved performance to enhance services provided by the Sheriff's Office.

The Sheriff and his staff continue to review overall operations in an effort to identify cost-saving measures. One such area under review deals with housing juvenile offenders. Due to mandated staffing requirements, it currently costs $322 per day to house each juvenile offender, compared to $46 per day for an adult offender.

Through an engaged community and a renewed alliance with our Board of County

Commissioners, we look forward to meeting current needs and forecasting a brighter future for keeping both Sheriff's Office personnel and the commu