The Oktibbeha County Board of Supervisors’ tentative Fiscal Year 2017-18 budget will allow Sheriff Steve Gladney more manpower to cover the county’s 459 square miles.
The budget, which goes into effect Oct. 1, includes a $167,093.48 request from the sheriff’s department for four new deputy positions Gladney requested since the county’s population — the amount of people living in apartment complexes outside of Starkville, specifically — continues to grow and demands more attention from law enforcement agents.
Currently, the Oktibbeha County Sheriff Office operates a five-deputy patrol on four 12-hour shifts. Injuries, absences and attrition have cut into the department’s manpower, Gladney said, as some shifts only employ four deputies to cover the entire county.
By adding four new patrol positions, Gladney said those four shifts will expand to six deputies each when fully staffed, giving OCSO better response times and coverage capabilities. Expanding the sheriff’s department’s roster will also allow Gladney to have more boots on the ground during fall football game weekends.
“We cover everything, from one corner to the other. It’s hard when you only have four (deputies) out there,” Gladney said. “Say you’re east of Starkville and get a call in Maben or Sturgis — that’s a long way to go. Depending on the call, you usually can’t just send one deputy, either. You have to send two. Then imagine if another call comes in while they’re out on the other side of the county.”
Gladney said the extra manpower is needed as emergency calls and reports of crime are growing along with the population.
In 2016, OCSO responded to 8,541 calls — about 712 per month — and made 2,233 arrests. Comparatively, the department received 4,456 calls from January to May, which is an average of 891 per month.
Many of those calls and reports of crime are coming from apartment complexes in outlying Oktibbeha County. A rough OCSO inventory of almost 15 student housing complexes and trailer homes estimates almost 9,000 bed spaces are located outside Starkville.
“Much of our time is either responding to calls at these locations or patrolling these areas to try and deter some of the more serious crimes, such as burglaries and auto burglaries,” Gladney wrote in a letter to supervisors. “(MSU sporting events, including Bulldog Bash and Super Bulldog Weekend) are bringing more people. All these events end and then our problems start because people go home (to county apartment complexes) to continue the party.”
Gladney’s request covers starting pay for deputies — about $33,852 annually — and almost $8,000 in benefits for each anticipated hire.
The hiring process will begin Oct. 1, he said, once the fiscal year begins.
“Public safety has to be a concern for everybody. The sheriff has been responsible with his budget, and it’s time for us to step up and help out so it can grow with the county,” said District 2 Supervisor Orlando Trainer. “It’s almost dangerous to operate with so few (deputies), especially when there are so many people in Oktibbeha County for special events. All of the requests we received this (budget cycle) are valid, and I think we’re doing a good job keeping in line with the growth and trying to come out ahead where we can.”
Carl Smith covers Starkville and Oktibbeha County for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter @StarkDispatch