Jefferson County Sheriff Pete Dougherty was the guest speaker at Wednesday's quarterly meeting of the Jefferson County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Following a luncheon at the Bavarian Inn, Dougherty took time to fill in guests on what has been happening in the Sheriff's Office over the past year since he took the position.
Doughterty first explained the various functions of the office of sheriff including serving as county treasurer. As the treasurer, he said he and his staff are responsible for tax bills, maintaining tax records and ultimately enforcing payment of delinquent taxes.
"The tax office sent out 46,098 tax bill this year," Dougherty said. He indicated that amount is 137 more than last year. In addition, he noted that the tax office took in $49,676,434.16 in taxes.
"We have to account for that down to the penny," he said, "which is why I am giving it to you down to the penny." Of that amount, 21.9 percent is given to the county while the remainder goes to municipalities and the lion's share to the Board of Education.
The sheriff's office is also responsible for overseeing the bailiff services for the county's courtrooms and other buildings. A part time staff of approximately 18 individuals work to ensure that one's safety and security is the last thing on their mind when entering a court facility, Doughterty said. To that end, new cameras have been installed in many buildings which allow constant monitoring throughout the buildings.
The sheriff also oversees the animal control department of the county. Currently there are five animal control officers who respond to a variety of calls. Over the past year, Dougherty said that the officers have responded to 1,274 calls covering everything from wildlife animal issues to animal bite victims, welfare of animals and aggressive dog complaints.
The sheriff's office must also serve within the county at mental hygiene hearings. Dougherty explained that during such a hearing, an individual has been brought before the hearing board because family members feel that the individual poses potential harm to him or herself or to others. Deputies must escort the individual to the hearing where, if they are found in need of potential commitment, they are then transported for an involuntary commitment hearing. Of the 57 cases of this type in the county last year, Dougherty said that 38 of those were ordered for transport.
Deputies must then immediately transport, following a trip to the hospital for a medical clearance to take the individual, to whatever facility has an available opening. Dougherty said that could be anywhere in the state and the timing could be anytime day or night. It is required to have two officers on such a transport for safety reasons, he shared.
In addition to these variety of duties, the sheriff's office also deals with police calls. Over the past year, Dougherty told attendees that the sheriff's office responded to 11,077 calls for service.
"That averages out to about 920 a month or 30 per day," he said. He also siad that the force writes about 70 citations a month on average.
"There is a lot of criminal activity in the county," Dougherty said. He reported that there were 972 felonies and misdemeanor investigations done by his office last year. Those numbers do not include the investigations of municipal or state police officers. There is much time spent in investigating criminal activity and allegations.
To assist cooperatively with each other, the sheriff explained that municipal and state police officers are sworn as special deputies so that they can respond within the county when closest to a call. In addition, he shared that the county's Board of Education has provided the sheriff's office and each officer with access keys for all school buildings so that they can quickly and safely enter schools should the need arise.
The office has also served 2,431 pieces of process, Dougherty shared, which includes summons, warrants, etc. In addition, officers are required to enforce family and personal protective orders that are issued by the court.
The sheriff also approves and issues concealed weapons carry permits. Over the past year, Dougherty said, 841 permits have been issued. He told the audience that individuals who have a felony record or have been involved in involuntary mental health care are denied permits; otherwise, individuals can provide adequate information and be given a permit.
Aiding in all of the work done by the office, Dougherty commented on the efficiency of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Reserve. To be a member of the Reserves, one must complete 150 hours of training and serve at least 16 hours of volunteer service per month, he said.
The office continues to update and make more efficient the processes in all areas of responsibility. Currently the sheriff is working on an evaluation process for promotion as well as stressing officer safety. All officers must wear and are provided with a bulletproof vest. In addition, Dougherty said that his office is supplying deputies with home safes to secure their weapons from their children.
"Safety of our officers is paramount," Dougherty said.