Starke County officials are being faced with a philosophical dilemma. They are being asked to either reduce the sheriff’s road officers or keep the jail understaffed.
“I’m here to let you know that I’ll do whatever the Commissioners and Council ask me to do, but I do want them to understand is that in order for me to eliminate two road officers, I would have to lay them off,” said Sheriff Cowen. “I can’t just place them down in the jail and subtract their pay to jailer’s pay. I can put them in the jail, but I would have to pay them officer’s pay.”
Cowen said he couldn’t imagine any officer who has gone through the academy wanting to become jailers even if given road officers pay.
Cowen said if the road officers refused to become jailers he would have no alternative except to lay them off. That would make them eligible for unemployment.
Commission President Dan Bridegroom said that even though he supported the original proposal, he is now more inclined to request more money from the County Council to provide the funding to bring the jail staff up to a desired number.
It was pointed out that the jail staff and prisoners have to be protected, and that is done only with an adequate number of jailers. One fear is that if they cannot protect the jail population, the county could face more lawsuits. The county already has a class action suit against it for overcrowding. All three commissioners expressed concern that eliminating road officers might put the public in peril. Bridegroom said, “If my house is being broken into, I want an officer available to respond.”
In the end, the commissioners voted to go back to the council to request more money for jailers. They may be full-time, or as discussed, they may be part-time which would eliminate benefits.