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Rural Law Enforcement: Long Hours in a High Stress Job

I was reading an article a few weeks ago from KOAA News 5 regarding rural counties who are struggling with retention of Law Enforcement Officers. They had spoken with Bent County and Crowley County Law Enforcement and the Fowler Police Department.

Sheriff Casey SheridanAs I was reading their statements, I could relate and thought that maybe the citizens of Kiowa County don’t realize some of what their local sheriff’s office goes through. We are a rural county, offer lower pay than some surrounding counties and work long hours in a high stress job. My office has five certified positions with one part time deputy who fills in from time to time. We have been down one deputy for over a year, which requires extra hours and caseload for the remaining deputies. We receive applications for openings in our office, but when the applicant finds out where we are located and the size of the county and then realizes there isn’t much to do here in their off time plus is told about the amount of hours they would be required to stay in county and the amount of pay offered, they withdraw their application. We have always tried to get a local to get into law enforcement and now have secured that with Avery Snover, who will graduate from the Otero Junior College Police Academy in December. I’m excited to have him join our team and stay in our county.

I had heard we had too many deputies when I was running for sheriff in 2014. I cut back one position to see if we could work with that. That just increased the caseload for the rest of the staff. We have all heard someone say that “back in the day” there was only a sheriff and an undersheriff that ran the entire county. My response to that is that times have changed, and there is more criminal activity than at that time with smarter criminals. The crimes are more sophisticated and have a tendency to be more violent. Drugs have evolved to be more potent and more readily available. Reporting practices have changed to accommodate modern technology and changes in the law. This sheriff’s office believes in proactive policing instead of reactive policing. My belief is if deputies are out on patrol looking for criminal activity, this will help deter it, and it has. We have had an increase in population in Kiowa County and seem to be growing all the time. How many times are you out in the community these days and see someone you don’t know?

Deputies are expected to put in long hours; sometimes they are the only deputy working, and, after their shift, they are required to be on call the rest of the night until the next deputy comes on duty. They work their ten hour day, go home and can’t leave the county because they are on call. The sheriff’s office is responsible for 24/7 coverage, 365 days a year. Our policy requires a second deputy to be on call for back up. This requires the backup deputy to stay in county, as well, in case of multiple calls or for back up on a high priority call, such as a domestic violence, assault, missing person or burglary alarm. The sheriff’s office responds to every fire and ambulance call, including the air ambulance for security, as well as assisting Colorado State Patrol and Parks and Wildlife when asked. Deputies patrol the highways and have seen an increase of vehicles traveling in our county in excess of 100 mph! We also travel the roads in adverse conditions looking for stranded motorists or accidents. With new businesses coming to town, we see a higher number of calls, such as vehicle lock outs, medical calls, human trafficking and drugs. Cell phone usage has hugely increased the number of traffic complaints received at the office and by our dispatchers. Telephone, email, and mail scam reports are taken weekly and sometimes daily. Identity theft cases now exist as well as internet crime.

Case prep time is something I think is often overlooked. A deputy spends many hours and sometime days or weeks working on case reports to give to the district attorney for prosecution. A simple DUI arrest means roughly six to seven hours of case prep work, not including court testimony. If there is a large case, weeks of investigation and preparation time may be necessary.

Burnout of law enforcement officers is a huge problem in small rural communities. A deputy can already be fatigued from working a full day, then is dispatched out at two a.m., handles the call, and goes home only to be dispatched out again an hour later on the other side of the county. He may then be scheduled to report for duty at 9 a.m. the next morning. A deputy who may have gotten very little sleep is expected to sometimes make life-saving, split second decisions. Because of the high stress deputies are under, we see a quick turnover rate. They are expected to work when a call comes in, day or night, and are even summoned to court or may possibly be called to assist other deputies on their day off. This is especially hard for a deputy with a family. In my opinion, this is why we see more of the younger single deputies apply for law enforcement jobs in rural areas.

Prowers County Jail (where we generally house prisoners) and surrounding jails are FULL! Anytime we arrest someone we have to now get on the phone and “jail shop” to find a facility that can house our prisoner. This is not happening with just our County but is a huge problem everywhere. We have to summons and release the lower crimes more than ever due to the jail overcrowding. Kiowa County houses for State Patrol arrests that take place in our county as well as any other agency that has a warrant issued for someone that we arrest.

Last year, Prowers County Sheriff Sam Zordel donated his oldest transport van to the Kiowa County Sheriff’s Office because we had to borrow it so many times that year. We have had to transport three to four and sometimes six inmates back and forth to court, which is the responsibility of the sheriff’s office. A few weeks ago, we had to transport one inmate to Douglas County Jail, one to Sterling Community Corrections, and one to Prowers County jail all on the same day. This took three staff members out of county to transport, while it was necessary to still have a deputy in county to answer calls for service.

Over the past year, most of us have heard of the murder, the shootings, the stabbings, and the rampant drug use sixty miles to the southwest of Eads. I am fighting hard to keep these types of criminal activity out of our county, and that is why you see our deputies out and about. Times are rapidly changing in the world, and, for the most part, it isn’t for the better, The sheriff’s office is trying to keep Kiowa County like “Mayberry” as best we can and would appreciate the help and support of the good citizens of Kiowa County.

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