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Kyle Troutman: When you call, will they come?
For almost half a decade, police forces across the country have started to see a steady dip in their ranks, and the Barry County Sheriff’s Office roster is becoming a prime example of how fewer employees can lead to larger issues.
Right now, the county is at 67 percent of its normal staffing, and where the office is hurting the most is where the public is most likely to see them — the road.
Barry County has only eight road deputies right now, down from the full staff of 14. This means instead of three deputies on each shift, the Office operates with only two.
Barry County is seeking applications, but the number Boyd has on his desk is a disappointing one — zero.
While they have been keeping up, the lack of staff could mean delayed response times, especially if calls come in from different parts of the county.
Sheriff Danny Boyd said the fastest his deputies could get from Monett to Golden, running lights and sirens, is 45 minutes. Curvy, shoulder-less roads are to thank for this lengthy trip, not to mention summertime toys, like towed boats and RVs.
Barry County deputies also have no shortage of work on their plates. Reports are up more than 20 percent this year, especially for domestic issues, which seem to have not quelled from pandemic spikes despite almost everywhere having reopened by now.
This combination of factors begs the question — if Barry County does not get more help, how long will it be before response times truly tank?
According to Boyd, there aren’t many options. Living just north of Purdy, he has been called late at night to respond to some calls in the northern portion of the county.
While his expediency is appreciated, it should not be an absolute necessity.
Why is the county in the position it is in? There are several arguable reasons.
Retirements have been up, and new trainees have been down. Boyd said at a recent sheriff’s conference, many sheriffs lamented even the new hires work with a different mindset, frequently questioning the necessity of certain tasks instead of just doing them.
The climate for police is also not what it was in years past. Bad cops catch more headlines than good ones, and the standard for police accountability continues to rise every day — as it should.
Law enforcement doesn’t have that luster of yore anymore. There’s no Andy Griffith or Barney Fife ‘round these parts, and if there was, I don’t think they’d fare so well in Barry County.
Deputies are tasked with some heavy crime issues these days, and they often wind up running the same perps through the system. As much as some may want it to be, this isn’t Mayberry.
Very recently, one deputy found himself nearly facing down the barrel of the gun of an Arkansas fugitive who had already opened fire on other police just months before. When authorities went later to arrest the man at a home in Eagle Rock, Boyd said the whole front of the house was windows, and had the fugitive been locked and loaded, it would likely not have ended well for the men and women in blue.
Deputies in June arrested one man for meth twice in two weeks, a man with six pending felony cases involving drugs and weapons.
The meth problem has long been an issue for Barry County to contend with, and Boyd said it’s not getting any better — possibly worse. More drugs are popping up in the southern end of the county, possibly coming from out of state. Then again, a suspected heavy trafficker of meth was recently arrested and released on a lowered bond to return to his rural Golden residence. I doubt his run-in with the law is going to curb his activities.
So, what’s the answer to all these issues? Or is there one?
Pay is an issue, for starters. Barry County struggles to find good deputies because it has such low pay. With a state grant boost, deputies start at $32,400. City of Cassville employees make $33,500 to start, and Monett officers come in with $36,941.17. Cassville had been down, too, currently only looking for one officer but at one point searching for five. Monett is fully staffed and is trying to add another officer but also struggling to find a qualified candidate.
“It is growing increasingly difficult to find qualified candidates over the last several years here, just like the rest of the country,” said George Daoud, Monett police chief. “We are continually trying to evolve with the situation to provide the best opportunity for the City of Monett to attract and retain the best police officers to serve this community.”
Higher base pay could attract law enforcement that sticks around, and with a full staff of dedicated officers for Barry County, a larger dent could be made.
Ultimately, Barry County will inevitably have to go the route of Lawrence County if it ever wants to change. No one wants to say the “T” word, but a law enforcement tax may be the only way to suit the Sheriff’s Office’s needs going forward, especially when you look at the current state of the jail on top of staffing issues.
At the point something like that is proposed, the question for residents will be a straightforward one.
Can you live without an extra few cents on the dollar when shopping to help take a bite out of area crime? Or, can you live with deputies not always coming immediately when you call?
Kyle Troutman has served as the editor of The Monett Times since 2014. In 2017, he was named William E. James/Missouri Outstanding Young Journalist for daily newspapers. He may be reached at 417-235-3135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.