Sheriff George Payne Looks Back On A Busy Y2K

Taking over as Harrison County Sheriff has been a bigger task than George Payne ever imagined. Payne said during his campaign he wouldn't need more money to upgrade the jail. Now he admits he didn't realize just how bad conditions really were.

He's spending three and a half million dollars to make the jail safer, increase manpower, and bring the jail up to national correctional standards.

"We had to spend some money, I was hoping we weren't," said Sheriff George Payne. "But it's like some of my staff are saying we bought a house that was ate up with termites and we didn't realize it so we've gotta fix it. We can't run from it, we can't deny it, we're not gonna make excuses."

Payne says there was no excuse for a jail break in April where five prisoners escaped. The sheriff blamed it on deputies who weren't doing their job.

Better jail officer training is one of Payne's priorities because at one time he couldn't find qualified people to work in the jail.

"I didn't have anybody in a pool that wanted to come to work in this facility because they considered it dangerous," Payne said. "Now we've got extended waiting lists of qualified people who wanna go to work here and I'm real proud of that."

He admits his department and other law enforcement agencies were outnumbered during Black Spring Break when thousands of partiers came to the coast blocking roads and misbehaving.

If the party comes back, Payne says the coast will be ready.

"We've got a coalition of people now working together, law enforcement and the community to solve the problem," Payne said. "We've been workin' on it for months. The group that's workin' on it, we've got a very viable plan now, we've got a plan that I think will work for all of us."

Payne says the new year will bring more improvements to his department and a stronger commitment to law enforcement than Harrison County's had before.