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Sheriff cites increase in crime

Sympathy, but no additional money.

Lawrence County Sheriff Jeff Lawless paid a visit to the Lawrence County Commission Thursday to discuss the increasing cost of crime and the effect it is having on his department and the county.

Commissioners said after the meeting that while they have sympathy for his plight, they doubt the county’s financial condition will improve to the point to where they can better fund the county’s law enforcement arm next year. Money from the sale of the ambulance stations will allow the sheriff’s office to finish in the black this year.

Lawless’ request was simple: Please make the sheriff’s office a high priority when making next year’s budget.

Lawless has seven fewer employees than he did 18 months ago — deputies, dispatchers and others who have left for other work, retired or died have not been replaced to make the ends of the office’s meager budget meet.

The decrease in staff comes at the same time crime is increasing. Lawless said in September his deputies answered 60 burglary calls and 109 theft calls. Three of the 60 calls were burglaries in progress—a criminal in the home at the time of the call. In October there were 51 burglary reports handed in and 130 theft reports.

Drugs and the economy are largely to blame for the increase. Lawless said while more than 20 people were arrested recently in connection with drug activity, this is only a fraction of the number of people involved in the illegal drug trade in the county.

“The sad fact is, it didn’t put a dent in it. There are people out there who can step in and fill the vacuum,” Lawless said. “We’re seeing many more people hooked on prescription drugs and the sad thing is, once they get the desire and the need (for drugs) they will do what they can to fill that need.”

Commissioners applauded the job Lawless and his staff are doing, given the workload they must shoulder.

“I appreciate what you’re doing with seven fewer employees,” Commissioner Malone said.

After the meeting, commissioners acknowledged that while the sheriff’s office no doubts needs to be better funded, they fear 2010’s financial picture may not be any better than 2009.

“It may be worse,” Commissioner Jason Stephens said. “State revenues could be half what it was in 2009.” The county relies in part on Local Government Funds for its general fund — money from the state that is used to pay for any number of necessities. Over the last few years LGF’s have consistently decreased. At the same time, sales tax and interest income revenue have also been on the decline.

Commissioner Les Boggs he would like to start work on the new budget by next week.