A County Sheriff's Challenges: An Interview with Tim Norton
When newly-elected Tim Norton stepped into the position of Elbert County Sheriff in January, he faced ten vacant deputy positions. "We have filled seven of those," he says, "and we are also making good progress in other areas."
One such example is his fulfillment of his campaign promise to move away from unmarked vehicles. "We have marked the vast majority of all our vehicles with the new logo," Sheriff Norton says. "It's a new design at a reduced fee of what the old graphics cost. I still have a few unmarked vehicles to use for undercover and surveillance work."
Chances are, if you get pulled over for a speeding ticket, you're not sure where the money goes. There are two kinds of tickets--state tickets and MTC (Model Traffic Code) tickets. If it’s a state ticket (such as one you receive driving through an incorporated town), half the ticket goes to the state, half goes to the County. If it's a MTC violation, that goes to the Law Enforcement Assistance fund. Sheriff Norton says, "We use that fund for lots of different things -- new equipment, new vehicles, vehicle repairs, fuel, and related expenses due to traffic enforcement."
The two biggest challenges Norton faces are insufficient manpower and facilities challenges. "Ideally," he says, "I would love to have sufficient staffing in all aspects of the Sheriff's Office. We would have full manpower on the streets, deputies for a special task force, full staff for daily operations in the jail, transporting of inmates to and from court or other facilities, and enough staffing to maintain security in the courts as well. Our staff is constantly juggling their duties to get the job done. Staffing in all areas is such a challenge for us on so many levels. On our current budget, we can't afford to compete with the other surrounding agencies like Parker, or Arapahoe or Douglas County where an officer can make $80-90,000 a year starting out."
The more pressing problem, however, is the local jail. It's a challenge due to its age and deferred maintenance issues. The internal infrastructures is failing (such as heating, air conditioning, plumbing, and mechanical systems). Built in the ‘80s, it was only expected to be a twenty-year facility. Safety and security issues revolve around the jail doors -- the company that made them is now out of business, which means there are no replacement parts. There are more examples, many of which affect the safety of jail personnel and inmates, and which may require a significant investment to bring them up to current standards. Over-crowding of cells is a constant problem. The operational bed equivalent is 27 beds. Sheriff Norton says, "We are having an additional assessment conducted by the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office as to the operational side of the jail, not just the need for additional beds, but new mechanical systems. Another issue is the safety of the jail for inmates. We are ultimately responsible for having a safe, modern jail. The bed space needed by 2025 is 61 according to a recent study. County commissioners are aware of this issue, and have included it in their facilities growth plan.
Despite these challenges, Sheriff Norton has an optimistic view of their progress. "We had a rough start when I came into office," he says, "but we're seeing daylight now and making progress. It's not as fast as I wanted it to be, but it's getting there. Things are starting to come around. We have a lot of support from the community, which is a great thing to see."