Sheriff considering removing officers from schools
Move comes after officials passed county budget with delayed funds for new officers
Despite being able to make their quick turnaround of approving the budget by May 3, Charles County Sheriff Troy Berry (D) still feels the board of commissioners had at least one stone left to be turned over.
The sheriff’s office has been put in a “difficult” situation, Berry said, and because of that the department may have to consider removing school resource officers from around the county.
“It’s a difficult situation. Do I leave the officers in the schools, or do I pull some of them out of the schools to
address the calls in the community,” Berry said. “That’s where we are.”
Berry said he would have continued discussions with the board of commissioners and the board of education to try to come up with solutions.
With the budget being approved on Tuesday, Berry said, there was no matrix or “strategic plan” set up to “responsibly” grow the sheriff’s office.
Berry said the county government granted the agency 100 percent funding for five sworn officers this fiscal year initially on Oct. 1, but pushed it back to Jan. 1 to save costs and hire five new emergency services officials. That decision was made without consulting the sheriff’s office, he said.
“The sheriff’s office is committed to working with all leadership in the county government, but we cannot have these lapses in communication,” Berry said.
The citizens will pay “now or later” for the county’s lack of immediate investment in staffing and developing a plan for the sheriff’s office.
David Eicholtz, the director of fiscal and administrative services for the county government, said delaying the hires until Jan. 1 made sense because the sheriff’s policing classes, according to Eicholtz, are in January and June.
“From my understanding, the sheriff begins a police academy class July 1 and they begin a police academy class Jan. 1. Funding them for officers Oct. 1 doesn’t do them any good,” Eicholtz said. “They’re not losing five officers they’re just hiring them at a later date.”
Both Eicholtz and County Administrator Michael Mallinoff said they had not spoken with Berry directly about the delay in hires, but still felt it was a “sound recommendation,” Eicholtz said.
Eicholtz said delaying the classes also allows the county to see where the sheriff’s office stands with the COPS community policing grants. But Berry said there is no guarantee the department will receive full funding from the state and federal grants.
Because of the uncertainty, Berry said, it is difficult to strategically plan in his own department. That is why, he said, there may be a need to pull school resource officers back into patrol duty.
Berry also said the academy sessions can start “whenever they are needed” so long as the sheriff’s office has the funds to do so.
In the past, according to data logged from the sheriff’s office, there have been police academy courses throughout the year.
In 2015, there was a class
on Nov. 14 and March 28. In 2014 there was one police class on March 31. There were correctional officer academy classes on Sept. 12 and Jan. 31.
Police academy classes are 29 weeks and correctional officer classes are 10 weeks. Berry said with the officer hires delayed until Jan. 1 the department will not see the fruits of their hires until “March or April.”
“[The commissioners] just delayed a potential of me putting staff on my books and impacting my communities for almost one fiscal cycle,” Berry said. “We just can’t keep operating that way. More so without communicating with the sheriff.”
County Commissioners’ President Peter Murphy (D) said Berry, Eicholtz and Malinoff had “constant talks” throughout the process. Murphy said the fiscal information was delivered to the commissioners accurately and they made a decision from that information.
County Commissioners’ Vice President Debra Davis (D) said she is disappointed that no one contacted Berry and his staff to ask them about the delay in hires. That is not how government works, she said.
“They’re making decisions on what the sheriff can and can’t do based on their interpretation. That’s disrespectful. That’s not smart. And I
think our citizens deserve better,” Davis said.
The operating budget for the next fiscal year is set at $374,542,600 and the capital budget is set at $94,833,000. The sheriff office’s budget is set at $82.7 million in the general fund.
Berry originally requested $88.2 million along with a strategic plan and 23 new sworn officers. Berry said he would be willing to implement those officers over time, but Eicholtz previously said he is being cautious of this fiscal year’s increase in revenues being a bubble.
Murphy said it is impossible to give every agency in the county everything they want during the budget ses-
sion. But the commissioners have a “willingness” to go back and revisit things, he said, as the county’s projections develop for the next fiscal year.
County Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) said the county has to be careful moving into its next fiscal year when planning for the future. Robinson said he is not sure the sheriff’s office will be negatively impacted by the delay in hires, but he is always willing to reconsider things with more information.
Robinson said the way the budget is structured helped the county make hires in all necessary areas and also allowed for step increases across the board. Those are positive things, he said.
“We want to be careful that this isn’t a bubble,” Robinson said. “We’re in such good shape. I even suggested that six months into the fiscal year we can take a look at things to see if they continue to come in at such a robust pace.”
But Davis said it is too late to reconsider things because the budget has already been passed. It would require a motion to revisit the budget discussions and it would require another vote to approve a different budget.
“That’s a lost cause,” Davis said. “But they didn’t seem to care to deal with facts. They could have called the sheriff.”