Sheriff Struggling to Staff Court with Deputies

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FAYETTE - Howard County Sheriff's deputies have spent more time in court than on the road patrolling, with the problem starting in July and running into October. In the 23 work days in the month of October, 18 will have required deputies to be in court. Some days are only for a few hours, but others are all day events requiring at least two deputies to be in the courtroom to act as bailiff and security.

Road officers are required to work the courts by the state of Missouri and Howard County Sheriff Mike Neal said it's about manpower.

"When you're tied up in court being the bailiff and have to transport prisoners to and from court, it pulls your manpower down when you have to answer calls and respond to the public when they need services," Neal said.

The Howard County Sheriff's Department consists of five full-time deputies, four jailers and four volunteer reserve officers. Neal said he's grateful for the help the reserve officers are willing to give, like Chief Reserve Deputy Russell Zellner.

"It takes so many deputies to run the court and we don't have anybody left over. I'm a volunteer, I don't get paid and I've worked six or seven thousand hours for this county over the last 20 years, but I'm happy to do it," Zellner said.

Even on the days deputies are off, they could be subpoenaed to testify in court, which Neal said also hurts the department.

"I'm playing bailiff while my deputies are testifying, I got two other guys transporting, I have to give my guys days off and I have to have people at night and then you start throwing in extreme amount of court days, it really puts a burden on," Neal said.

Regardless, many Howard County residents said they feel safe and feel the sheriff's department is doing a good job. But some said they still feel the deputies spend too much time in court.

"The deputies that we do have here in Fayette need to be out protecting the street instead of sitting in a court room and have somebody else appointed to that position so they could get that job done and they could be out doing the job they need to be doing," said Angel Smith, a Boonville resident who visits Howard County frequently.

Elysse Jinkens, a Fayette resident, said the biggest problem is the budget.

"In order to fund the amount of people they would need to have people on the road and in the court house, [the city] would have to be doubling the work for the people that are working at one time," Jinkens said.

Jinkens also said that supporting extra people would require extra money.

"It's a lot more extra equipment, it's more people, it's more training," Jinkens said.

Zellner said one problem that arises from the personnel shortages is trouble staffing the jail.

"We don't have enough people to run this jail adequately and one person on at night from midnight to eight is making them really susceptible, and it's not a good thing," Zellner said.

Zellner said one of the reasons behind a recent escape was having just one jailer on duty.
Howard County Presiding Commissioner Lowell Eaton said the sheriff's department was given as much as the budget would allow.

"We try to give as much money as we can to each department, we try to keep the budget balanced and try to stay in the block and in small county that's a tough job," Eaton said.

In 2012, the sheriff's department recieved approxiametly $100,000 from general revenue and approxiamelty $102,000 in 2013, which is $20,000 more than previous years.  However, the sheriff's department also recieves about $300,000 from a recent half-cent sales tax, plus money from boarding prisioners totaling just over half a million dollars for 2013. 

From January to May 2013, there were fewer than 11 days of court per month. Since June, court days have been between 13 and 18 calendar days per month. Neal said the increase is making it harder him and his deputies to solve investigations.

"I have an unsolved homicide from three years ago that I've been trying to work on as well, but when you have to be in court, you cannot work on investigations, so you're kind of in a Catch 22," Neal said.

In November, Neal faces 10 days of court, with nine scheduled for December. But those numbers could still increase.