Manpower Shortage Worries Sheriff's Department - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

09/22/05

Manpower Shortage Worries Sheriff's Department

Riots, an infectious outbreak, and a dramatic crime increase have the Pearl River County Sheriff's department saying they feel overwhelmed.

Officials say right now they're down a dispatcher, three deputies and four corrections officers. Some are out because of illness. Others quit after the storm. The manpower shortage is putting a strain on the already small department.

Since Katrina, Pearl River County dispatchers and deputies have hardly had a moment to catch their breath. The complaints of burglaries and larcenies have tripled. Deputies believe most of the crimes are being committed by outsiders.

"Criminals know that the guard is down and you're not home. That's just like someone is looting," said Capt. Butch Raby. "I actually caught people from Arkansas and other states that come into our county to loot."

Fewer jailers is also a problem. When the jail lost power during the storm there were 200 Pearl River County inmates inside as well as about 90 prisoners evacuated from Hancock County. When temperatures reached 115 degrees, tempers flared. In the first few days after Hurricane Katrina, two riots broke out.

"The riots could have been trying to take advantage of the storm situation," said Chief Deputy Aaron Russell. "Or it could have been based on the environment in back which it was very hot, very humid. Unlike a house without electricity, when we didn't have electricity here, we can't open windows and doors. So they have to stay shut up basically."

Russell says heat and sanitation issues caused a guard to develop a lung infection. There were also health problems among the inmates.

"We had a pretty severe outbreak of staph infection and we actually had to bring the state health department in. They sent us several teams of doctors and nurses. It took us a little while, and they were finally able to get us antibiotics to start treating it and is under control at this time."

With deputies working 17 hour shifts, the sheriff's department is exploring ways to ease the work load.. but with a hiring freeze that won't be easy.

"The one thing we would need to continue to continue to do what's required is extra man power," said Russell. "We would need something that would be a long term solution for the manpower. Not a short term Band-Aid."

Help from out of state ended Thursday morning when those officers left to return home and no replacements are expected. Hancock County did send some deputies to oversee prisoners now housed in Pearl River County.

by Danielle Thomas

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