Strapped for Cash, Putnam County Can’t Hire Additional Manpower for Every Shift

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One man. One night. One county.

He thinks the public should know.

Jacob Frund loves the community he lives in and works for, the Putnam County Sheriff’s deputy said. But the job comes with drawbacks.

Often, one deputy watches the county for a night, as well as other days, while a dispatcher communicates with him back at the Hennepin office.

“Everyone just thinks this is Putnam County, nothing happens,” Frund said. “But they don’t see the domestics we go to. They don’t see what happens at 2 a.m.”

The NewsTribune rode with solo deputies to see the challenges that come with protecting the smallest county in Illinois.

“As a solo deputy, who’s coming to help me?”

It was a Tuesday December night when deputy Jake Bush scoured the county to make his assignments. First he drove to Magnolia to check on a student because of an event at school, and then Bush drove to a Putnam house, where the owner thought someone was occasionally breaking in.

Even before Bush left the office to go to Magnolia, he was helping a resident with a restraining order.

While checking on the Putnam house, dispatch called Bush to come back and give medication to a man booked at the jail. Bush said it wasn’t that long ago when all five jail beds were full.

When people work together, they’re able to ask questions and figure things out together. That’s often not the case when deputies are alone at night on a call.

“It gets a little hairy sometimes,” said deputy Frund, who responded to a domestic call in Granville on a Thursday February night, and then went to direct traffic at Lake Thunderbird for a power line hit by a tree.

He explained that when he’s alone, he’s the officer, detective, jailer and more.

“As a solo deputy, who’s coming to help me?” asked deputy Josh Randall.

He mentioned that if the county decided to save money and lay off one deputy, there’d always be only one deputy at any time.

What happens if no one hears you?

Sometimes there’s no cellphone reception.

“I don’t have service right now,” said deputy Frund, holding up his cellphone during a recent ride-along.

Frund was directing traffic at Lake Thunderbird after a tree hit a power line, and he mentioned sometimes all he hears is static on the scanner.

The deputies don’t have computers in their vehicles to communicate to dispatchers either.

It begs the question, what happens if the only deputy on duty was hurt and unable to communicate with other responders?

Lone deputies a safety issue

One deputy on duty is a public safety concern, said Putnam County Sheriff Kevin Doyle, and it’s a concern for officer safety. A deputy is often the first on scene to emergency calls.

Putnam County is Illinois’ smallest county at about 171 square miles, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy or fast to get across the county.

The villages of Mark and Granville have police, but neither are on 24/7.

Granville Mayor Jared Baker said he looked back at records until July, and Granville didn’t have any open night shifts.

Both villages are on the northern end of Putnam County, which means if Mark or Granville provide backup, it would take about 16-17 minutes driving the speed limit to make it to the county’s southern end at Magnolia.

And Lake Thunderbird on the county’s western end is about 20 minutes away from Granville and about 15 minutes from Henry, where there is a police department.

It’s not like nothing happens in Putnam County either. with a population of about 5,727 in 2017.

Doyle said during a recent two-day, bad-weather event, there were about 41 calls of service for the sheriff’s office.

Because they are short staffed — when there’s more than one deputy can handle — Sheriff Doyle or Chief Deputy Chad Haage are called from home on their off time to assist.

Why only one deputy?

The amount of staffing is the reason there’s often only one deputy on at night, Doyle said.

The sheriff said he’d like to hire at least two more deputies, but “I don’t see it happening in our current financial situation.”

There are seven deputies, and one is assigned full time to the task force. With six deputies remaining, “covering two people every shift is impossible,” Doyle said.

Throw in vacations, sick time and days off — it’s just not possible to have two deputies on at all times.

“I think there should be at least two deputies on a shift,” said county board chairman Steve Malavolti.

In April last year, the county announced its general fund was nearing empty.

The primary job of the board is to ensure county safety, Malavolti said, and he doesn’t foresee a future where the board would decide to lay off a deputy.

He thinks there would be enough money to hire another deputy if the public approved a safety tax (such as the one that failed in November with more than 75 percent of voters voting ‘no’).

The county may try again in 2020 to ask the public to approve a tax increase, he said.

Pay disparity

There is a sizeable starting pay difference between the Putnam County deputies and other area police departments.

“If this continues with the wages, I’m going to struggle to maintain the guys I have,” said sheriff Doyle, who mentioned he doesn’t blame those who would choose to leave because of pay, especially those with young children.

The average hourly rate for the seven county deputies is $24.78 an hour — compare that to Peru police department, where officers started off at about $27.75 an hour in 2017.

It’s not only deputies; there’s also a difference for dispatcher salaries — a Putnam County dispatcher made $15.75 in 2017, whereas a dispatcher working for Illinois Valley Regional Dispatch started at $18 an hour in 2017.

“I think they stay because there’s a good atmosphere here, a good working relationship among deputies and dispatchers,” Doyle said, but asked, “How far does that go?”

Source: News Tribune