Health, Safety and Welfare: Job #1
Updated: Feb 17
The number one job as a County Commissioner is to “...provide for the health, safety and welfare of the citizens.” So, I toured the La Plata County Detention Facility recently. As background, there are 125 employees at the Sheriff’s office. It is a large budget item the County funds at $15,000,000/year. There are various units including patrol, jail personnel, administration and investigations. Deputies patrol four districts at any given time covering roughly the size of Delaware or about@1,700 square miles.
County jails all over Colorado are filling up including ours. The La Plata County jail often has over 200 inmates. The number of inmates here is rising 10 to 12%/year. Surprisingly, on some days, our jail here has a higher census in relation to our population than Mesa County (Grand Junction). I asked Sheriff Sean Smith why. We have a more transient population here because of proximity to other states. Drugs are a growing problem. The crimes committed these days are more serious and thus, require longer inmate stays. And, our population is going up and with that, crime goes up too. We have been housing inmates from Archuleta County, about 30 at any time, but this will change in 2020 when that county gets a new detention facility.
ISSUES the jail tour raised for me as County Commissioner candidate:
1) REVENUE: The Sheriff is elected by the people but the BOCC allocates money to the SO (Sheriff's Office). We need sustainable revenues especially as the county grows. The Sheriff's Office has done a lot of innovation to save money and provide better services. This is happening via the provision of medical and food services, in ways that inmates are checked in, and by accessing items from a free Federal Government Surplus program. This is the kind of action I expect and want to see. And, at the same time, we need sustainable revenues as population rises.
2) DRUGS and alcohol are a very serious problem impacting our entire criminal justice system (and other systems too). There is a big gap because this area does not have inpatient treatment. The County cannot and should not provide such services as this is not its role. However, our regional community has to step up efforts to address this need. It will take very creative problem solving, political will and leadership.
3) STAFFING: I was very impressed with the professionalism of the deputies I met. Deputies work long hours with many demands. At any given time they could be doing a routine traffic stop, involved in a life-threatening incident, guarding inmates who are in the hospital or at a court hearing, or doing paperwork. Their training is extensive and costly. Making sure their salaries are on par with like-sized counties and ensuring we can retain quality personnel is my priority.
Related news article: https://the-journal.com/articles/149350
4) ALTERNATIVEs to JAIL: There are programs that prove to reduce numbers of repeat offenders. I support these programs if they prove outcomes and employ a wise use of money. They are especially relevant for youth, some who can turn their lives around with help.
I will be a voice for solutions in public safety and I will advocate for sustainable revenues so the Sheriff's Department can continue to keep us safe.
Marsha for Commissioner
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Photo credit: Top: Durango Herald/Google Images and Bottom: LPSO.