Isle of Wight Sheriff wants more deputies

Published 12:47 pm Wednesday, April 13, 2016

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

More people, more businesses, more traffic and a host of other changes are putting the squeeze on the Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office.

That’s why Sheriff Mark Marshall asked for an additional five positions to create a patrol zone specific to the Carrollton area.

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The request was not included in the proposed fiscal 2017 Isle of Wight County budget.{mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

The additional positions would have cost about $500,000 and added an additional 1.5 cents to the already proposed 3-cent tax increase. Interim Isle of Wight County Administrator Sanford “Sandy” Wanner said he just couldn’t make it work.

At the same time, the number of authorized positions hasn’t changed in eight years, Marshall said.

Last week, Marshall and his deputies presented a list of areas where changes are causing staffing problems.

In the past few years, the number of days court is in session has increased from three days a week to five, and on Wednesdays and Fridays, there are two courtrooms in use, said Capt. Joseph Willard, who heads up court services. Judges ask for two to three baliffs to be present while each courtroom is in session, and the building must be manned during working hours throughout the week due to clerks’ and commonwealth attorney’s offices being open, Willard said.

Changes to the state’s mental health laws now give officials up to eight hours to evaluate an individual, rather than the previous four. Depending on how violent the person is, it may require two deputies to remain with that person for the entire eight hours, said Lt. James Pope, who heads up the patrol division. Often, deputies are tied up transporting a person to an open bed, sometimes on the other side of the state, he said.

“The patrol deputies are impacted by that,” Pope said.

Other staffing fluctuations include regular absences and training, said Lt. Tommy Potter, who heads up investigations.

In less than a year, there were two armed robberies of businesses in Carrollton — one at Bojangles and one at Langley Federal Credit Union, as well as a spike in heroin overdoses related to the increased sale and use of the drug in Isle of Wight.

Larger cases, more complicated cases, and which are increasing, take more manpower and staff time too, Potter said.

Deputies are asked to work a lot of overtime, and that leads to burnout, Potter said.

Isle of Wight also serves as the back-up agency at night for the Windsor Police Department.

At the same time, the number of residents living in the Carrollton area went up 180 percent between 2000 to 2010, from 1,631 to 4,574, according to the U.S. Census and the Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office. Calls for services have increased in that area by nearly 30 percent since 2011, from 21,078 to 29,622.

Calls in other parts of the county have also increased since 2011, up about 50 percent and 41 percent in the southern and central zones, respectively.

Recently, construction has accelerated, as well as the number of residents in the northern part of the county, Marshall said.

Add to that more traffic and growth in other areas, such as northern Suffolk, and that leaves the agency understaffed, as the Sheriff’s Office also has to assist with traffic accidents, he said.

“It (Route 17) is now like a mini-interstate with traffic lights,” Marshall said.

Despite the growth — and with more to come, Marshall said the number of sworn deputies positions authorized by the county hasn’t changed since 2008, at 45.

And there are constantly one or two vacancies at any time, he said. Currently, the Sheriff’s Office is budgeted for $3.9 million, up from $3 million in fiscal 2011.

In contrast, Gloucester County, which is often compared to Isle of Wight County due to size, population and character, has 57 full-time sworn deputies in the sheriff’s office, according to Terri Malonson with the Gloucester County Sheriff’s Office.

The town of Smithfield, which is about 10 square miles and has a population of 8,100, currently has 21 sworn officers, including the chief.

The town of Windsor, with a population of 2,626, has six sworn officers, including the chief. Of the three jurisdictions, Isle of Wight has the fewest sworn officers per capita.

When Marshall took office in January 2012, there were two patrol zones, meaning two deputies were tasked to cover more than 300 square miles each night.

One of his first acts in office was to move five full-time school resource officers out of the elementary schools and split the remaining three among the middle and high schools. That decision generated a good deal of controversy, but Marshall said the deputies were needed on the street.

Those additional deputies were used to create three patrol zones — north, south and central.

The northern zone is currently the largest, and includes Comet, Ivor, Rushmere, Sandy Mounty, Smithfield Heights, Carrollton, Gatling Pointe, Battery Park, Cherry Grove, Pons and Raynor.

Marshall realizes the northern zone covers a lot of ground, but the zones were based, for the most part, on how major roads are laid out in the county. Even so, he said, most calls in that zone come from the Carrollton area.

Marshall said he’s thought of reviving the old volunteer auxiliary deputy system used by former Sheriff C.W. “Charlie” Phelps. However, Marshall would require the deputies be as fully vetted as paid deputies, as well as have the same training and certification.

While there is some interest in the community for reviving that program, it does require some resources, Marshall said.

“It’s not entirely free,” he said.

He’s also considered cutting administrative staff to make room in the budget for patrol deputies, but doesn’t believe that’s a viable option, given the level of record keeping required for accreditation and by the state. 

Newport District Supervisor William McCarty said there’s no doubt that Carrollton is growing and citizen safety is a concern.

McCarty said many residents have told him that they want to see more deputies patrolling their neighborhoods in Carrollton.

Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree, who is also the former chief of the Carrollton Volunteer Fire Department and a career first responder, can understand why the request was not put in the budget, given the county’s money woes of recent years.

Acree’s district also includes parts of Carrollton.

He looks forward to discussing the issue with his fellow Board members to see if it’s possible to make other cuts in order to fulfill Marshall’s request. It’s a concern of Acree’s because if deputies are stretched to cover one end of the county over another based on calls, it affects everyone.

“When you’re in a county this large, a difference of one deputy in one shift could be a matter of life or death,” he said.  {/mprestriction}