For the third time in four weeks, Sheriff Tom McGraw spoke with the commissioners about the difficulty in reducing the jail budget and still keeping staff and inmates safe. (See the two related articles in the Nov. 29 issue of The Flume.)
Joining him was Erik Bourgerie, retired Summit County Detention Facility Commander. He was with Summit County for 20 years.
Bourgerie said that he has served on Colorado’s Police Officers Standards and Training’s arrest control subject matter expert committee for 14 years. Now he is the director of POST.
Peace officers in Colorado and the nation must be POST certified in order to gain employment.
Because of his expertise, McGraw asked him to speak to the commissioners.
He said as commander in Summit County, he had been through what Park County is now facing, an oversized jail with shrinking revenue because of fewer inmates from other entities.
Bourgerie said state law is changing due to a national and state trend of reducing the prison population, and more laws are on the way.
He had completed a study using a matrix system to track what jail personnel did on each shift and what costs were incurred on each shift.
The main objective was to question where and what to cut and how little is too little to keep everyone as safe as possible.
Bourgerie said one method would be to form a diverse group of people to look at all the details, develop alternatives and recommend the best path forward.
“Go into it with an open mind and realize that maybe the best solution is to not change things,” Bourgerie said.
Commissioner Mike Brazell asked if anything had been identified in the work matrix study that helped Summit commissioners make a decision on staffing.
Bourgerie said not really, but it did educate county commissioners and personnel that jail staff were busier than what they thought.
He said 70 percent of a sheriff’s office’s liability comes from the jail, and to keep in mind that whatever is done, don’t increase that liability to save money.
Bourgerie said he understood the difficult operational decisions that had to be made due to decreased funding.
He has taught classes throughout the state on how to conduct a jail operational assessment. The first questions must be: What are your goals and what is your vision?
Commissioner Dick Elsner said their vision was to build a smaller, more efficient jail that uses the best technology available to minimize staff and be as safe as possible.
Several specifics were discussed, such as; Can the medical staff be reduced, or can certified personnel be reduced?
Bourgerie cautioned against doing either due to state laws and safety issues. He said he didn’t think anytime soon we’d see robots manning the observation room or on the floor trying to stop a fight.
Law enforcement is inherently violent, and there will always be fights, he said.
Brazell asked about keeping the inmates and personnel separated at all times.
Bourgerie asked, “Then what would you do if an inmate is hurting himself or another inmate?”
Bottom line, there are times when contact is necessary, he said.
He said even with telemedicine, a jail must have a doctor because every inmate needs to be examined when they come in.
At least one nurse is needed at the jail to give out medications. Other personnel are not allowed, by law, to dispense medications.
Bourgerie said now rehabilitation, education, job training, treating mental health issues and reducing or eliminating jail time is the trend.
Brazell asked about how to tap any grants to help with the current philosophy, especially mental health treatment, and to help counties with aging jails that are half empty.
Brazell said jails are part of the mental health solution, with an average of 30 percent of the population having serious problems.
He said the state has $1.5 million allocated to treat mental health issues in jails.
Bourgerie said now about 90 percent of Colorado jails have benefited from the program. Park County hasn’t, and other small county jails haven’t either
To get funding, he said, an inmate must have both a mental health diagnosis and a drug addiction.
Sheriff McGraw outlined what has been looked at to reduce costs without eliminating personnel.
He said County Manger Tom Eisenman has worked with him to find solutions, but they hadn’t been able to come up with much except cutting staff.
In 2018, the commissioners increased salaries by $1.6 million for the Sheriff’s Office.
McGraw maintains the jail can’t operate with less than 18 officers, three per shift, and two shifts seven days a week.
Medical costs are down compared to 2016 when the county contracted all medical. Costs then were $325,000.
This year, using Dr. Katherine Fitting, a full time and one part time nurse, costs are at $270,000.
Other solutions mentioned were getting more federal prisoners.
Jail Captain Nathan Fidler said that when he asked, he was told federal prisoners would not be sent for several reasons.
Fairplay’s elevation is too high for prisoners with heroin or other drug addictions and other health problems, such as heart disease.
Elsner told Fidler to ask again, but only for those without addiction or other health issues.
He said Jefferson County had 50-60 federal prisoners, and Fidler should try to get some of those from Jefferson.
Food costs were also looked at. Fidler said if the county stopped contracting for food, then dietitians, special diets and religious diets would end up costing more than the $200,000 spent on a contract.
McGraw said he had been asked to cut command staff, but he can’t. Fidler is the only command staff, and he is doing much more than any commander.
McGraw said he was also asked to use reserve officers, but they have none. A volunteer posse is still operating, but they don’t have the training needed, so that would be an additional cost.
Elsner said to use deputies to reduce jail staff.
McGraw said the overtime would cost more than keeping jail personnel, plus a patrol deputy makes more than a jail deputy.
McGraw said if the jail had a consistent population of five to ten, then he may be able to reduce staff.
He said the case worker, which is a required position, volunteered to get trained as a detention officer and fill in when needed. That would save about $60,000 a year. He could also not fill a vacancy in animal control for another $50,000 in savings.
McGraw said about $5-6,000 could be saved by hiring civilians for the control room. He said it had been tried in the past, but positions couldn’t be kept full. Civilians quit as soon as they could.
Elsner said that is a good start and to look for other small amounts here and there to cut.
At this meeting, no one mentioned cutting school resource officers, as had been suggested at a previous meeting.
Taylor Peterson, animal control supervisor, said they have 19 resolutions and three state statutes to follow.
A position is currently vacant, and the commissioners are considering not filling it.
Peterson said with two officers, last month, they had around 120 calls through their phone and dispatch. That didn’t include vet checks or quarantine checks.
“Our community really needs us,” she said. “Taking away one officer, deputies would have to do the work if they had time.”
She said calls are increasing. In 2017, animal control had 1,800 calls. In 2018, there were 2,081 and so far in 2019, they have had 2,370 calls.
Elsner said the hard reality is the Sheriff will have to not fill vacancies.
Elsner said the patrol side of the Sheriff’s Office would not be cut, and he doesn’t regret the salary increases or vehicle replacements. The jail and animal control would see personnel cuts.
“We will continue talking after the budget is approved to see where we can cut more,” Elsner said.