Sheriff's Office: new beginning

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Column by Sheriff Billy Woods

By Sheriff Billy Woods

On Jan. 3, 2017, I had the honor of being sworn in as the 35th Sheriff of Marion County, however, the work that occurred to get to that moment did not occur overnight. During the two years which preceded my inauguration I traveled throughout this county and listened intently to the concerns that many of you brought to my attention regarding the Sheriff’s Office and the turmoil it had been mired in over the past several years. I want to thank the community for the support I have received both during the campaign and subsequent to my election. I also want to extend my sincerest thanks to Sheriff Gainey who took the reins of the agency during a time of crisis and started the hard work of righting the ship prior to my arrival and who also ensured that the transition to my administration was seamless.

There have been several substantial changes at your Sheriff’s Office since Jan. 3, and I want to update you on some of those. First, I have reduced top-heaviness at the agency by reducing the number of bureaus from seven down to three. Additionally, I have eliminated the Assistant Bureau Chief positions which previously existed. This reduction has streamlined efficiency by ensuring that all law enforcement, detention, and support services report to one bureau head – rather than several. I have also renamed the Bureau of Corrections the Detention Bureau and changed the titles of Corrections Officers to Detention Deputies. This was done because our detention personnel are just as vital to our organization and its success as our deputy sheriffs and they should be recognized accordingly.

I have also begun work on addressing three major issues which plague our agency: 1) compensation; 2) staffing; and 3) capital equipment. First, I currently have my staff working on a plan to adjust employee compensation to make it competitive with surrounding counties and agencies. Because our agency has fallen so far behind our local law enforcement counterparts on salaries over the last decade, this will be an expensive proposition. However, I am confident based on early estimates that a responsible plan can be put into place that will realign our salaries to a competitive level when spread out over a three-year period.

Staffing levels also remain a serious concern. There are adjustments being made internally that will help staffing by reassigning certain positions to patrol from other less essential functions. Furthermore, over the next two years I intend to civilianize certain positions that do not require a law enforcement officer to perform. Due to cost savings that will be realized when these positions are civilianized I anticipate being able to create between 4 and 6 new deputy positions without adding additional expense to our budget. Competitive salaries will also enable us to begin attracting qualified applicants for open positions.

I have also instructed my staff to commence work on a five-year plan to be introduced to the County Commission during the budget workshops in May. While we are very fortunate that our citizens passed the one cent sales tax that will assist in replacing antiquated capital items, we must immediately begin planning on what we will do to pay for these items when the sales tax expires. My plan will provide several options for consideration by the County Commission that will sustain the Sheriff’s Office when the sales tax runs out and into the future.

Finally, and most importantly, I have required each of our deputies to swear to an Honor Oath. The Oath is as follows:

On my honor, I will never betray my badge, my integrity, my character or the public trust.

I will always have the courage to hold myself and other accountable for our actions.

I will always uphold the constitution, my community, and the Agency I serve.

This Oath has been framed and placed in every district office, administrative building and throughout the jail as a constant reminder that there is nothing more sacred than our honor and integrity. While I realize that misdeeds were done by a small few in this agency the past several years and that trust must be rebuilt, it is my vow to you that under my administration your Sheriff’s Office will again be a symbol of pride, respect, and honor. I am truly honored and humbled to have the opportunity to serve you as Sheriff and may God bless each of you and your families.