Darnell will seek hike in sheriff's budget


In this file photo Sheriff Sadie Darnell speaks during the annual candlelight vigil in honor of National Crime Victims' Rights Week on Tuesday, April 8, 2014, at the Alachua County Health Department building in Gainesville, Fla.

Andrea Sarcos/Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, June 17, 2014 at 7:18 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 17, 2014 at 7:18 p.m.

As Alachua County government gears up for this year's budget cycle, commissioners heard from the sheriff and other constitutional officers Tuesday about the work their offices do and their financial needs for the upcoming fiscal year.

Sheriff Sadie Darnell revealed that she will seek a budget increase to ensure pay raises and some capital improvements as she gave a presentation on the services her employees provide and the challenges her agency faces.

Chief among those challenges is the need to both recruit and retain quality employees, she said.

“Attracting and retaining employees is getting more and more difficult,” Darnell said. “It's getting less and less safe in the law enforcement profession.”

Law enforcement has high divorce and suicide rates and the risks include frequent exposure to infectious diseases and required work at night and on weekends and holidays, Darnell explained.

She told the commission she supports giving workers raises in the upcoming fiscal year, emphasizing the need for the Sheriff's Office to ensure it's competitive for both prospective and current employees.

There are over 30 vacancies for detention officers at the jail, she said, although 17 detention officer trainees will help address this issue.

Darnell told the commission she has submitted a budget for the upcoming fiscal year that is just above the level of a continuation budget, citing the need for raises and some capital improvements among her reasons for requesting an increase.

“I could do a big dog-and-pony show and ask for more,” she told the commission. But she said she recognizes the economic reality the county is still dealing with, although as things improve she's going to ask for more, not less.

Commissioner Susan Baird agreed with Darnell that ensuring the agency is able to recruit the law enforcement personnel it needs is important, comparing how highly stressful law enforcement jobs are to the stress that medical professionals experience — where if they make one mistake, a patient could die or they could face a lawsuit. Law enforcement needs to be compensated well for the work they do, Baird said.

However, Baird questioned whether some of the services the Sheriff's Office provides could be considered more like community-service-type programs, mentioning some of the agency's domestic violence efforts and its use of school resource deputies as examples.

As for domestic violence issues, which Darnell's presentation went into detail on, Baird said the agency can sometimes act almost like an extension of organizations like Peaceful Paths with some of the services its personnel provides.

Although school resource deputies serve an important role in dealing with potentially dangerous situations like school shootings, Darnell also highlighted the way those deputies build relationships with the students that can help resolve other problems in the students' lives both at home and at school.

Baird, however, said it's important to take cost-effectiveness into consideration.

“I just don't know if that's the right cost-benefit for that relationship,” she told The Sun after the meeting.

Baird suggested to the sheriff that perhaps more resources could go toward addressing gang-related problems.

It's the sheriff's prerogative to decide where her resources will go, Baird told The Sun, but the County Commission, the sheriff and the other constitutional officers should all focus on trimming their administrative costs where it makes sense to do so.

Nobody minds wanting to give employees a raise, Baird said. “What they mind is the bloatedness of local government.”

Commissioner Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson said Tuesday he thinks the Sheriff's Office does a great job, but the one area he and Darnell respectfully disagree on is how her agency handles the enforcement of marijuana laws involving small-time users.

He has requested information on the estimated costs of the actions taken regarding the approximately 237 people the Sheriff's Office arrested in 2013 for simple possession of marijuana, from arresting and jailing those individuals to prosecuting them and supervising their sentences.

He asked Darnell if she had any sense of what the societal costs were for the small-time marijuana users who were jailed in Alachua County. Darnell told him she would have staff look at this request. They won't be able to come up with societal costs but will address the costs in other areas where they can obtain that information, Darnell said.

“I just want to know what the cost is. I think everybody does,” Hutchinson told The Sun after Tuesday's meeting. He said he thinks the Sheriff's Office performs many services worth funding, but this isn't one of them.

In a follow-up email Tuesday, Hutchinson said Darnell told him she didn't make any changes in her department's enforcement of marijuana laws as a result of the community conversation on this issue last year, which he said was very disappointing.

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gainesville.com.

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