Originally Published: August 12, 2008 8:29 a.m.
Following are answers to questions Prescott Newspapers posed directly to candidates who face primary competition in the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office.
Republican Ernie Cox is running against incumbent Steve Waugh.
Q: What are the three most important issues facing the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office?
Cox: The budget. Among the many issues of concern to be resolved is the projected $5.7 million jail district deficit. Fine-tuning of the jail district budget is a priority. The solution is a priority. The Yavapai County citizens deserve the highest and best use for their tax dollar.
I plan to restore public service in the western tradition. That includes improvement within the integrity of the department by giving the Yavapai County residents the respect and service they deserve, personal contact and an open door policy.
Leadership in management, supervision, training, improvement of morale and development of our greatest resources (our personnel and volunteers). Proper training and supervision in all areas are necessary for the morale and safety of the personnel. Involvement of personnel and volunteers will help create a better working environment. We must correct the turnover of personnel within the Sheriff's Office and vacant positions.
Waugh: Try to maintain the level of service that I have been able to create over the last three and a half years. We have significantly reduced response time by 30 percent, which puts it in the neighborhood of 25 minutes. When I took office, it was 45 to 50 minutes response time.
With the cooperation of the Board of Supervisors, I have been able to adjust positions internally. We have 25 more deputies in the field, which is a 34 percent increase.
Start being creative in using people and maintaining a quality of life and maintain a level of service. To accomplish that, we want to move our resources closer to the population base. We serve 30 communities. With the opening of the substation in Williamson Valley, that brings us 12 miles closer than we are now. We have established substations at Oak Creak and a full service substation in Mayer and part time services in five other areas. We are moving toward community based law enforcement.
Resolve the jail revenue shortfalls.
Q: How important is providing timely information to the public? How do you feel about setting up a system like the Prescott Police Department, where the media can stop by and review all YCSO reports without redacted names?
Cox: I will work with the media to the best ability of the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office can within the law. It depends on the situation as to the urgency of the report to the public. In the case of a missing person, looking for a suspect, or something of that nature I would want the media and the Sheriff's Office to work together as quickly as possible.
Waugh: The PIO is totally accessible at all times. I have no problem sitting down with the print media. I would be more than happy to try to work out something. It is difficult to copy reports and put them in a book - we have 11 substations and not enough personnel.
We try to be as open as possible with the media. If it is not getting the information, talk to me and I will talk to the powers that be about what is doable and what is not.
Q: How can you balance the jail district's budget?
Cox: I will do a thorough audit of the budget. There are fixed costs that cannot be changed. The varying items can and will be scrutinized and changed to lower costs. The cost of inmates has to be adjusted.
Waugh: I have no control of revenues. I don't have control over renting bed space, which generates money and has help offset the cost of $1 million a year. The jail district tax of one-quarter percent, especially the countywide tax, is down $2 million.
On the law enforcement side, the Board of Supervisors determines the money we get from the general fund. Fortunately, we are given a certain amount of money to operate the jail. Once the budget is established, that's what I have to work with.
When there is a shortfall, the county has the ability on a temporary basis to shift money around to balance the budget. The county always starts with a balanced budget where revenues equal expenses. Depending on the revenue from the jail district tax, the Board of Supervisors moves money around to stay in the black.
Of the four budgets I have dealt with, on each June 30, I have always been in the black. This year we are in the black.
Q: How do you plan to combat overtime?
Cox: The proper scheduling of personnel. I know for sure that scheduling in a lot of areas is not good. We are down 12 certified officers. We need to get them in and assign them to an area to cover shifts.
Waugh: Overtime costs for the size of our agency for law enforcement are about half of what local agencies that are half our size. Overtime is a necessary evil in law enforcement. It is cheaper for me to pay overtime than to hire deputies to fill those times when overtime is used.
It costs $140,000 to hire two deputies and there is no way I can have them working the hours that people work during overtime.
The concept is that at the end of the day, I can't just turn the key off and go home - a call can last significantly longer than someone's shift. During a homicide, the first 24 to 48 hours are critical to getting evidence. It can start raining or the evidence deteriorates.
Percentage-wise, overtime costs are extremely small at the end of the year. I am always in the black.
Q: How big of a problem is illegal immigration, how do you see it affecting your department and how do you plan to deal with that?
Cox: The problem with illegal immigration is the cost they create to all citizens. It is a big problem and it is a drain on our tax dollars for law enforcement, court systems, health care, etc. The Sheriff's Office has to deal with crimes created by illegals, special procedures for illegals, housing of the illegals, transportation of the illegals, preventing additional crimes by the illegals, and the language barrier.
We have to maintain and improve a working relationship with Illegal Customs Enforcement officials. We need to have personnel, detention officers and patrol deputies certified with ICE. I would like to have a Spanish-speaking detention officer and patrol deputy on each shift.
Waugh: It is real important for folks to realize that we are one of 48 agencies - out of the 40,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. - that have ICE training. There are only 3,000 officers trained in ICE out of the 400,000 law enforcement officers in the U.S.
It wasn't easy to get those and we have four more field officers scheduled for training in October.
Over the last 15 months, we have transported over 2,000 illegal immigrants to ICE. That's a good number. In May, on Interstate 17, we arrested 250 illegal immigrants. We are identifying more people coming to jail through ICE as illegal.