BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MONTROSE – The Lee County Board of Supervisors will soon be looking at the costs for expanding the staff at the county sheriff’s department.
Lee County Sheriff, Stacy Weber approached the board at the workshop portion of the weekly supervisors’ meeting and showed the board statistics on jail occupancy compared to other counties in southeast Iowa.
He said the South Iowa Area Crime Commission has indicated the jail is short five full-time positions and Weber said he’s looking to add five to possibly 12. The county safety team met immediately after the workshop to discuss safety and security issues in a scheduled meeting.
A report from SIACC indicated Lee county should have 19 full time correctional officers for the three shifts and one Jail Captain. Lee County has a Jail Administrator, John Canida, that fills that post and they have 14 full-time correctional officers and five part-time. The part-time officers are being utilized to fill the schedule and keep a minimum staffing level in place. By adding the the additional five full time, the SIACC report indicated the part-time position could be used exclusively for unforeseen or emergency situations.
Weber said the the additional staff should be used to have a bigger presence in county buildings.
“I recognized the need. I’ve been approached by people in the county office buildings and courthouses about the security of those buildings,” Weber said.
“I know our jail is not adequately staffed. I figured today with the safety meeting right after the board meeting, it would be a perfect time to bring this up. It’s taken me awhile to put it all together and I wanted to see if the trend of inmates would move back down. But it’s not moving, it’s stayed in the 90s. I just thought this would be the perfect time to address it and give the board an opportunity to hear where we’re at.”
Right now there are four correctional officers on staff for each of the two day shifts and two, one male and one female, on the overnight shift.
Weber brought in comparisons of jail occupancy to staff and showed that most other jails with markedly smaller populations have higher staff than Lee County.
Des Moines County in particular has a capacity of 68 but has an additional full-time person on each shift including the graveyard shift. Lee County is currently holding 10 inmates for that county because of overflow. He also brought in comparisons from Wapello County, Washington, and Henry Counties, all of whom were at equal staffing or had higher numbers than Lee County, but all with much smaller jails, including the Washington CountyJail which can house 75 offenders. That county has five staffers on the two regular shifts but has three full-time on the overnight shift.
“Currently we have two folks being held on murder charges in our jail. If there’s anyone we want handled safely and securely, it’s them,” Weber told the board.
“Been in the 90s every day this month. There’s 92 this morning and we have a maximum capacity of 132 and that’s uncomfortable. It’s really just a number, it’s not a realistic figure, I don’t believe. We have a great staff. They do more with less but they’ve been grinding it out.”
Weber said he’d like to add the staff and then cross-train them so if and when the jail population is lower, those officers can be moved out into the public and around into the county buildings. The new hires wouldn’t be deputies, but would be assigned as correctional officers.
“We would make them go through some pretty vigorous training so they are lawful to carry firearms on duty. These folks would be responsible for keeping the peace. We’re not asking them to serve warrants, chase down cars, nothing like that, but to maintain security in whatever position they are in on a day-to-day basis.”
“I’d like to know the costs and talk to Cindy and see what carryover is and see if we can make something work. I’m very uncomfortable with the staff they have there overnight. Someone’s gonna get hurt,” said Supervisor Don Hunold.
Supervisor Ron Fedler said it’s a misconception with the public that these positions are safe positions because they are officers, but that’s not always the case.
“I considered (former ISP) Warden (Crispus) Nix one of the best wardens ever at ISP and he told me once, because of the nature of the people we deal with, every day you’re one day farther away from your last riot and one day closer to the next. These people are here because they don’t obey the laws,” Fedler said.
The board asked Weber to put together some costs associated with his request and bring them back to the board so they can see those figures and have a conversation before moving forward.