FOP says deputy staffing and radios at jail and domestic/ juvenile courts are safety risk

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The Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge No. 9 went public Tuesday with its demands for an immediate increase in Franklin County sheriff’s deputies and better radios at the county jail and the county domestic relations and juvenile courts.

One deputy has been assigned to floors 6, 7 and 8 of the county jail — where the most violent offenders are often held — and one deputy is stationed on each floor at the domestic and juvenile courts, so backup in an emergency must come from at least a floor away.

FOP No. 9 President Keith Ferrell, whose union represents the sheriff’s deputies, said at a press conference Tuesday that deputies working in those areas can have a situation arise at any moment and must take action without immediate help. Backups must come from at least a floor away.

“Without the appropriate staffing level or equipment to do those things, it makes our job extremely difficult,” Ferrel said. “It puts us at risk as well as the public at risk.”

In January 2018, a deputy fatally shot 16-year-old Joseph Edward Haynes during a scuffle in a courthouse hallway involving the juvenile defendant and his mother. Haynes had become emotional and vocal about what happened in court minutes earlier and his mother somehow got knocked into the deputy. The deputy, who was knocked to the ground, was responding to a situation alone in a crowd and said he thought someone was attempting to take his weapon.

Ferrell said the number of deputies in courts has not increased since the fatal incident, and requests have been denied because of a lack of budgeting.

The budget for the sheriff’s office in 2018 was about $149 million and about $152 million in 2019, which is a 2% increase. Tyler Lowry, director of public affairs for Franklin County commissioners, said the commissioners will continue to work with the sheriff on funding issues, including requests for the 2020 budget. But Sheriff Dallas Baldwin ultimately makes the decision as an elected official on how to spend his office’s funding allocation, he said.

Baldwin was out of town Tuesday and unavailable for comment.

Jeff Simpson, FOP No. 9 executive vice president, wrote a letter to Baldwin in March calling the courts staffing levels “extremely inadequate.” Along with dealing with hundreds of people a day, deputies there also have to file reports and respond to any other issues.

The union filed a grievance in May against Franklin County over the staffing and equipment issues. An arbitration request was filed May 20 to get a third party involved to resolve the situation after the Franklin County sheriff’s office denied the grievance. The FOP is still in the process of choosing an arbitrator.

Another letter was sent Tuesday to Franklin County Commissioners President Marilyn Brown, Commissioners Kevin Boyce and John O’Grady and Baldwin, repeating FOP concerns over the staffing levels.

Earlier this year, 87 new surveillance cameras, 39 additional panic buttons and 40 upgraded door locks were added to the courthouse, which cost about $750,000. Ferrell said the cameras are great for seeing what happened, but don’t help deputies when incidents are occurring.

Ferrell said the FOP is looking to add eight or nine officers to the courts so there are at least two for each of the floors. The number of deputies being added to the jail would depend on whether radios were repaired to improve communication.

Some radios used by deputies at the jail and courthouse need repair or have poor signals. At the courthouse, Ferrell said at least 50 spots have been identified where radios do not work.

A purchase order was approved for 15 new radios after Simpson’s March letter, but no new radios have been received. There are also at least nine radios waiting to be repaired.

“It’s just not acceptable,” Simpson said. “If we can get a man on the moon, we can get a radio to work.”

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