Robert G. Pepersack says he inherited a county Sheriff's Department with a long list of shortcomings, but he's looking at the bright side.
"What I inherited was 28 deputies who are willing to work and were just waiting for leadership," Pepersack said Friday. "You can look at that two ways, as a disaster or a golden opportunity to start from square one and build the department."
Pepersack, a Republican who routed seven-term incumbent William R.
Huggins in last month's election, called a Friday news conference to outline the changes he has made since taking office Dec. 3 and talked about his plans for the agency, which has a $1.2 million budget.
Pepersack has hired, on a contractual basis, an undersheriff, former county police officer Patrick Ogle. Pepersack said he will make $37,000 a year.
The new sheriff complained that the agency had no organizational structure when he arrived. He said he has organized the agency into three sections: a security section responsible for courthouse safety; a transportation section to move prisoners; and an operations section to serve summonses.
He said the department under Huggins had almost no system for accounting for money or keeping statistics of work performed. He said the department has no computers, but he has ordered two personal computers, using a $4,000 fund that Huggins never tapped.
Despite the climate of economic uncertainty and resultant hiring freezes in county government, Pepersack said he hopes to persuade county officials to approve his plan to hire two civilians to help the one clerk handling office paperwork.
He also is seeking to hire 18 deputies, at a cost of $500,000 to $600,000, to allow the department to take over the job of driving prisoners from county police stations to District Court and the county jail. A private security company handles that duty at a cost of $460,000 a year.
Pepersack said the move would be economical because the deputies would also be able to perform other functions, such as serving summonses and warrants.
He said county officials may expand the department despite the tight times because the agency is in "dire straits."
Pepersack complained that area lawyers owe the office thousands of dollars in unpaid bills for summons services, and he said the office will no longer serve papers unless the $15 fee is paid in advance.
He also has revamped the ranking structure in the department to correspond to the three pay grades for deputies. Under the new structure, senior deputies are sergeants and the one chief deputy, who had been a major, is now a lieutenant, though he earns the same pay and has largely the same duties, Pepersack said.
Ogle said the new structure, as applied to the deputies' duties, is more analogous to that of the county police. He said the restructuring would allow the sheriff to argue in budget proceedings for equal pay for equal ranks between police officers and sheriff's deputies.
The moves, along with an increased emphasis on discipline that has brought orders for some deputies to buy new shoes and a requirement that deputies salute their supervisors, have caused some grumbling in the department, Pepersack admitted.
"These guys and ladies have never been part of a real law enforcement organization, and they're faced with a little bit of culture shock," he said.