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Sheriff request should be received favorably

My Opinion
Ross Schulz, Staff Writer

Harrison County Sheriff Rodney (Rod) Seelye provided rock-solid data last week to the Harrison County Board of Commissioners to support the addition of a least a couple new police officers.
Seelye’s official request, with a cost estimate and number of officers, will be presented Tuesday at the commissioners’ next meeting. It would then have to be passed on to the county council for approval.
The additional officer positions, if the commissioners and county council agree to fund them, should come with a stipulation that, if the county no longer receives riverboat gaming funds sometime in the future, then the positions will be re-evaluated.
As it stands, the county as a whole budgets more money than non-riverboat funding can support. So, if the riverboat goes away, basically everything in the budget will be back on the table, although county leaders had the foresight to create a community fund at the Harrison County Community Foundation to help fund county government if the boat goes away. The fund has grown to $68 million as of last week.
The council has an unwritten rule of not adding any personnel except at budget time (late summer/early fall). And since, if approved, this would greatly effect this year’s budget, I would have no problem with the council waiting until that time to officially hire and provide funding for the officers, meaning the positions could be filled on Jan. 1, 2015.
Seelye said that, since 1996, the department has only grown by one officer, from 21 to 22 (including the sheriff and chief deputy). So, while the manpower increase has been minimal, the demand has skyrocketed.
Since 2000, the runs for service have increased 142 percent, from about 9,000 per year to 23,000-plus in 2013. The county’s population continues to grow, from 29,890 in 1990 to 34,325 in 2000 and 39,364 in 2010.
Since Seelye took office on Jan. 1, 2011, overall arrests are up 20 percent; arrests for selling drugs are up 1,000 percent; burglaries, 130 percent; and thefts, 77 percent.
The number of dispatchers relaying the information from the public to the officers has grown from eight to 12.
All of this data is hard to ignore.
The sheriff has a history of trying to save the county money one way or another since he took office, so that, combined with the overwhelmingly supportive data, should lead to a positive vote when the time comes from both the board of commissioners and county council to add to the county’s police force.