A good year for the sheriff
It’s hard, nearly impossible, these days, to catch Mike Deatrick of Laconia without a grin on his face.
That’s because Harrison County Sheriff G. Michael Deatrick, as he is formally known, is one happy dude.
‘I’ve enjoyed this year,’ he said, taking time last week to reflect on his first year as the top gun in local law enforcement. ‘Everything has went good for us.
‘My officers ‘ my chief and all the other officers ‘ are doing an excellent job. I have no complaints on any of them.’
Some days are, of course, more difficult than others. So far, Deatrick’s worst day in office has been the time inmates ‘tore up my cell block in the back.’
As a former Harrison County Councilman (1990 through 1994), Deatrick, 58, knows how expensive it is for the county taxpayers to repair such unnecessary damage, like broken faucets, showers and commodes.
When such acts occur, the guilty inmates are punished. In this incident, Deatrick said, six inmates spent 30 days in ‘lock down,’ or solitary confinement. That means no TV, no communication with anyone. ‘They sit there,’ the sheriff explained.
‘Then, if they come out for a day and still have problems, they go back in for another lock down.’
Such vandalism also costs the inmate any time off he might have otherwise earned for good behavior, which is a day off for every day spent without causing problems.
The sheriff said some of his goals when he took office are already being reached, such as cutting down on burglaries with more police presence and fighting illegal drug use. ‘We’ve lowered the burglaries, and we’ve ‘took out’ a lot of meth labs,’ he said.
The reserve, unpaid police force has also been beefed up, from 12 when Deatrick took office to 28, and the horse patrol is up from seven to 27.
Reserves and the horse patrol fill a vital need for extra police during festivities such as the Heritage Weekend at Lanesville or the Harrison County Fair in Corydon.
The horse patrol is also essential when a search is underway, especially in the Harrison-Crawford/Wyandotte Complex, Deatrick said.
He said the riders enjoy parade appearances, which foster good will.
The sheriff’s department is being upgraded with two grants.
That includes $50,000 from the Harrison County Community Foundation to purchase laptop computers for each of the 21 police cruisers. Now officers can fill out reports on the scene or later in their vehicles instead of at the Justice Center. This not only allows the reports to be completed earlier, it also keeps police presence on the streets, Deatrick said.
A $25,000 grant from the U.S. Dept. of Justice will be used to purchase bullet-proof vests for the officers, said police chief Gary Gilley.
Gilley said the federal government provides the money because it mandates that bullet-proof vests be replaced every four years. They become ineffective with use, he said.
‘My greatest fear is that one of my officers will get shot,’ Deatrick said. ‘That’s the only thing I’m concerned about. We can handle any problems we have among ourselves.’
Deatrick started out on the force as a reserve officer in 1991 under the late Sheriff Edward L. Davis Jr.
He became a mentor for Deatrick, a role model.
‘Me and Ed was good friends,’ Deatrick said, adding he respected the way Davis conducted himself in office. ‘Ed could talk to people, be sociable and could resolve problems.
‘You can’t please 100 percent of the time, but if you can please the people that need your help, you’ve accomplished the job,’ Deatrick said.
Deatrick was hired as a full-time officer in 1995 to fill the position made available by a federal grant.
Elected sheriff in 2002, Deatrick oversees a paid staff of about 72. The sheriff’s budget this year is $867,719. He also runs the 150-bed jail, which includes central dispatch and correction officers, and sheriff’s administrative offices in the Justice Center, which opened on Gardner Lane in 1996. That budget tops $1.2 million.
How difficult is it to balance all those duties?
‘It’s not,’ the sheriff said. ‘We’ve got administrators in each department. They confide in me on everything that’s going on, and if there’s a problem, I handle it.’
He added: ‘I think I’ve got a very good bunch of people to work with. Not everyone agrees with what I say I want done, but we all agree we have to make changes.’
A Blockwatch program implemented during the Davis Administration is one of the most popular services offered to the public, Deatrick said.
‘Lt. Chris Walden is the head of Blockwatch.’
Walden, Deatrick said, has organized several Blockwatch programs which basically train neighbors how to watch out for each other and summon help when necessary.
Deatrick said he and his chief are called to the scene of any fatality, to make sure standard operating procedure is followed. ‘You don’t want no one to ever come back and say, ‘We don’t think your officer … ”
The sheriff said he also has an open-door policy: Anyone is welcome to talk to him about problems, including those regarding an officer.
But, he cautioned, he will take action only if the person is willing to put the complaint in writing. ‘I’ve never had one yet,’ he said.
Deatrick and his wife, Joyce, can usually be seen sitting on the front row of council and commissioners’ meetings. He or a representative is required to attend to keep the peace.
‘I attend the meetings with the sheriff because I am matron,’ Joyce said, ‘and I think it’s my responsibility to know what’s going on in the county as much as in the jail,’ she said.
She was matron when Deatrick took office, and she earned the position working her way through the ranks. She started as a part-time volunteer in the Davis Administration, continued to work during Sheriff Clyde Sailor’s Administration, and was named assistant matron in March 1995. She was named matron by the late Sheriff William E. (Bill) Carver, who died in office in 2001.
The Deatricks’ son-in-law, Capt. Eric Fischer, is also on the force, as he was prior to Deatrick taking office.
Deatrick said because they are related, he is stricter with both. ‘I have to set an example with them.’
The number of calls made in 2003 shows criminal offenses have remained relatively stable in Harrison County since the year 2000, but the number of other calls for police help, including traffic crashes, is on the increase.
In 2003, 15,986 calls were logged, 2,562 of which were criminal offense related, said Capt. Brad Shepherd, supervisor of the dispatch department.
By comparison, in the year 2000, 10,477 calls were received, 2,568 of which were related to criminal offenses.