Sheriff wants to build off past, improve future
Newly-elected Harrison County Sheriff Nick Smith wasted no time getting down to business after officially taking over Jan. 1.
His office has no decorations, only a couple chairs for visitors, a couch filled with equipment and a desk covered with sticky-notes to keep track of things.
It’s all business for Smith, but his excitement level for the job is obvious.
‘It’s exciting the community said, ‘Hey, we want you to be the one we have a voice through’,’ he said last week. ‘It makes me happy I can be their voice.’
The sheriff has a few ideas to improve what he called an already ‘super strong’ department.
‘(Former sheriff) Rod (Seelye) did a lot of good things; he built a heck of a strong backbone,’ Smith said. ‘We went from the ashes to actually being a bird again. Our bones are super strong, our meat and muscles are good, but our feathers are a little ruffled … he couldn’t do it all.’
Smith said there’s a lot more to their agency than a normal police department with the jail, dispatch, health care and the sheer number of inmates.
‘It was fun to help Rod do what he did and nice to continue in that same route,’ he said.
The first big item of business Smith plans to enact is the addition of body cameras for each officer, to promote transparency and reduce liability for the department and its officers.
‘We told the public we were going to do it, and they voted us in, so we’re going to do it,’ Smith said of the cameras.
Smith also has plans to implement mandatory physical fitness for officers.
‘Let’s help people excel,’ he explained. ‘You want them to do good. It’s a positive thing, not a punishment.’
Smith said officers are paid to be able to chase someone, jump a fence, run, capture a guy, fight if need be, climb through a window, drag someone out if they’re hurt.
‘That’s my job,’ he said. ‘I can’t say, ‘I got the job, now I can have a sedimentary lifestyle’.’
Officers are sometimes put in stressful situations, Smith continued, where, if their cardiovascular system is not in good shape, they could encounter a lack of oxygen and have tunnel vision, resulting in bad decisions.
‘That happens,’ he said. ‘We don’t want that to happen here.’
Smith said he plans to keep up the CALEA (Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies) accreditation the department reached last year.
‘It will help with liability,’ he said. ‘It already has.’
The department is not quite fully-staffed on the road officers side, he said, but it soon will be.
‘We have three new hires: one from Paoli, one up from a corrections officer position and another from Palmyra,’ Smith said.
Smith said the officers have voted on their schedules and they’ll be covered to not have as much overtime.
‘More family time makes better employees,’ he said.
As for the corrections and dispatch departments, Smith said they’ll have to address additional staffing and a potential wage jump to be competitive.
To get a better feel of the needs throughout all corners of Harrison County, Smith said he intends to meet once a month or so in a different town throughout the county to hear concerns from residents. He’ll invite other elected officials to join him as well.
‘Elizabeth is different from Corydon,’ he said. ‘The needs are different in Lanesville, Crandall, New Amsterdam, Ramsey.’
Smith said he will continue to rely on reserve officers and said that program is building steam with new applicants.
‘A lot of people in the community want to help,’ he said. ‘We can’t lower the standard. Those people have to meet the same criteria as full-time guys because, in our absence, that’s what they are … We’re in this together. Everybody that lives in this county wants to be proud of its government and law enforcement; they’re the ones that chose them.’
Seelye will remain with the department as Smith’s chief of police. The department includes four lieutenants: Nathan Banet and Ryan Yeager, who are now overseeing the reserves program, Chris Walden and Shane Mason.
Capt. Brad Shepherd recently accepted the chief of police position with the Washington County Sheriff’s Dept., and Walden plans to retire in August.
Mason will be in line for the captain’s position, Smith said.
Everyone will be working out on the road, the sheriff said.
‘None of us can sandbag,’ he said. ‘We’re a team limited in resources.’