Pubdate: Sun, 12 Jul 2009
Source: Birmingham News, The (AL)
Copyright: 2009 The Birmingham News
Author: Val Walton


Jefferson County sheriff's deputies warn of increased safety risks if
budget cuts made

Jeffco captain says staff 'bare bones' Sunday, July 12, 2009 VAL
WALTON News staff writer

Two Jefferson County senior sheriff's deputies testified Saturday that
staffing in their divisions is already thin and public safety would be
jeopardized if cuts are made in the sheriff's office narcotics division.

The County Commission voted last month to trim Sheriff Mike Hale's
budget by one-third as part of across-the-board cuts for all
departments of the nearly insolvent county government.

"I'd pretty much have to tell drug dealers ... y'all have fun because
we can't do anything," said Capt. Paul Logan, division commander of
the office's Birmingham narcotics unit.

Logan, a 22-year veteran, was one of three senior deputies who
testified before Circuit Judge Joseph Boohaker during the second day
of a hearing in which Hale is asking that the county be blocked from
cutting the sheriff's budget.

"We are bare bones now," said Logan, who gave a PowerPoint
presentation about staffing and work done by both the Birmingham and
Bessemer divisions' narcotic units. Logan speculated that
investigators would not be able to properly respond to people's drug
dealing complaints. He said cutbacks would hobble work done by
deputies who handle drug interdiction on interstates and highways,
investigate Internet crimes against children and ferret out identity
theft cases.

Jeff Lee, a lawyer representing the county, suggested that other
municipalities with police departments, such as Hoover, could handle
drug investigations when they spill outside the sheriff's office's
jurisdiction into other areas.

Logan said it is imperative that Jefferson County follow
investigations all the way through for prosecution and to protect
confidential informants.

When asked by Lee if there is a law prohibiting the office from
handing off investigations, Logan responded, "No."

Priority Claims Law:

Capt. Mark Farley, division commander for the sheriff's Bessemer
narcotics division, echoed Logan's prediction that public safety would
be in danger through cuts, including the work of four school resource

"If we lose personnel, the public safety is going to be at risk and
the children," Farley said when questioned by Tammy Woolley, an
attorney for the sheriff's office.

The county cut the sheriff's budget by $5.1 million late Thursday
after the Alabama Supreme Court lifted an order that had temporarily
blocked the county from cutting Hale's budget by a third. The county's
action came before the Friday morning start of the hearing before
Boohaker on the legality of the cuts.

Lawyers representing the sheriff's office argue that a state law known
as a priority claims law requires the commission to give some
departments, including the sheriff's office, priority when making
budgetary decisions. Lawyers representing the County Commission
contend the priority claims law requires preference be given to
certain services - the county jail is first on a list in the statute,
for example - but does not apply to entire departments. They also
maintain that the commission is legally bound to balance its budget,
and can't do so without making deep cuts everywhere.

Testimony concluded Saturday when Capt. Dennis Berry, who manages the
sheriff's budget, told how he realized through a general accounting
software program that a portion of the sheriff's budget was reduced by
$5 million by the county on Thursday night.

The hearing will resume at 9 a.m. Monday before Boohaker.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake