Thursday, February 12, 2015

To serve and protect

During his budget presentation to the supervisors on February 3 Goochland Sheriff Jim Agnew outlined the accomplishments of his agency for the past year. Law enforcement is a lot more complicated than writing tickets. Goochland deputies patrol 180 square miles for 168 hours a week.

(The presentation is available on the Livestream area of the county website under the 3 p.m. session for February 3. Agnew’s talk begins about 1:55 into the meeting.)

Agnew announced that Black, the county’s canine deputy, will soon retire. On the job since late 2007, Black, said Agnew is getting old. Purchased with seized drug asset forfeiture funds, Black is a “combo” dog able to detect drugs, track, and, if all else fails, bite.

Black’s successor, a dog named Chase, is waiting in the wings. Deputy Greg Bock, who has handled Black, will work with Chase in North Carolina this summer to make sure that the new dog is appropriate for work in Goochland. He too will be funded by seized drug asset forfeitures.

While canine deputies are “old school,” Goochland law enforcement also uses high tech methods to catch the bad guys. Criminal activity is conducted by computer and cell phone. Agnew said that his department recently purchased new and updated devices able to extract electronic evidence that will stand up in court. The machines and training of personnel to operate them was funded by money distributed by the state attorney general that was part of a pharmaceutical settlement. Agnew contended that this equipment is a useful tool and that no taxpayer dollars were used to pay for it.

Perhaps the most heart wrenching issues calls handled by our deputies are mental health related. They are often called upon to intervene when troubled souls become a danger to themselves and others.

Such an incident occurred last August, just a few days after the shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. A family called 911 to report that their son had a knife and threatened to kill anyone who came near him. Deputies dispatched to the scene kept their distance as the man became more distraught. Deputy Matt Carrier, who had completed crisis intervention training, was able to “talk the man down” and get him to give up his knife so he could be taken for mental health evaluation and get the help he needed. The best part was that no one got hurt.

Agnew, who has been reappointed to the Governor’s mental health task force, declared that crisis intervention training is a very important skill. He wants to have all Goochland deputies trained in these techniques. “The system is still broken,” Agnew said of mental health crisis response. “But we try to do the best we can for people with mental health issues.”

A recent agreement with the West Creek Emergency Center allows people with non-violent mental health problems to be evaluated there in a more therapeutic environment to ensure that the incident was not the result of a medical condition.

Seizing property to satisfy unpaid debts is another duty of the sheriff’s office. Agnew said that his staff worked with Goochland Treasurer Pamela Johnson to seize equipment of a company that owed more than $130,000 in back taxes.

Then, there are the routine duties including helping distressed motorists.

Goochland deputies are there to protect and serve, not write traffic tickets to generate revenue, said Agnew. While calls for service have declined about two percent in 2014, responding to those incidents will probably take longer going forward. If the General Assembly approves wider collection of DNA samples, processing arrests will become more complicated. Agnew believes this is a positive change and will help solve more crimes.

Agnew’s budget request for fiscal 2016, which begins July 1, includes two additional deputies and one more dispatcher.
He also asked for 13 vehicles, two new, and the remainder replacements for a cost of approximately $411,000. The consequences of suspending the vehicle replacement schedule during the economic downturn are starting to be felt. Agnew said that, although well maintained, his office is using many high mileage vehicles—one with 178,338 on the odometer—and they do not last forever.

Agnew said that he will not “put anyone in vehicles not in good condition.”

This is where the supervisors will have to decide, almost literally, where the rubber meets the road. Our deputies do a good job; they must have safe, reliable vehicles.

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