Itawamba County Sheriff’s Department plans cutbacks

By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times

Much like everybody else these days, the sheriff’s department is cutting back.

Beginning next year, the Itawamba County Sheriff’s Department will attempt to cut its rapidly increasing expenses by suspending several of its public services … at least for the time being.

Included in the cuts will be the department’s long-running practice of unlocking vehicles for the public. Although the department will still field calls for vehicle unlocks, these calls will now be redirected to area locksmiths.

Additionally, the department will no longer respond to animal control calls that don’t pose an immediate threat to the population. These include cases of loose livestock and roaming dogs, for example.

According to Itawamba County Sheriff Chris Dickinson, the decision to cease offering these public services is solely based on finances.

“These have always been public services, but not a law enforcement issue,” Dickinson said. The sheriff added that the department receives at least two calls regarding one of these issues daily.

“We’ve been looking at our call logs, and we’re spending two or three hours each day on non-law enforcement issues. That’s a lot of time and gas,” he said. “We have to cut some of that stuff out.”

Additionally, the department is altering its Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE program, in order to cut costs. According to Dickinson, the program will lose the eighth grade instruction, which was added to the original sixth grade program two years ago. The move will save an estimated $15,000, the sheriff said.

Dickinson added that DARE officer Terry Fortune will remain in place and the sixth grade program will continue as normal.

“The DARE program is still important,” the sheriff said. “Sometimes, that’s all the drug education a child gets. And it’s not just drug resistance; it’s also about bullying and peer pressure.”

The program is only covered in part by the sheriff’s department; the county itself, the city of Fulton and the Itawamba County School District also contribute to its funding.

The decision to cut expenses is, at least in part, a result of the recent scrutiny the county’s board of supervisors has placed on the sheriff’s department. As one of the most expensive of the county’s departments, the recent round of countywide budget cuts has resulted in the board’s occasional questioning of the sheriff department’s high expenses.

Along with the cost of personnel, paying for fuel encompasses the bulk of the sheriff department’s spending. Dickinson said most deputies travel about 300 miles daily while making their regular patrols.

The sheriff said poor economic conditions have also led to an increase in crime, which in turn increases his department’s expenditures.

“Our calls for service have gone up,” he said. “Most of it is related to the economy. We need all the personnel we can muster to work the law enforcement problems in the county.”

The sheriff said cutting back on and and all unnecessary expenses is the only option. He said it was a “getting back to basics” kind of strategy.

“We’re not going to cease any of our law enforcement operations,” he said. “Sometimes, you have to get back to your rooms. That’s what we’re going to do.

“We can’t control how many calls we receive, and we’re going to respond to all of them,” he added. “We’re just going to have to play with the hand that’s been dealt to us.”

adam.armour@journalinc.com