What you need to know about the Office of the County Sheriff

What you need to know about the Office of the County Sheriff

By Oscar Dorr, Charlotte Sun-Herald Newspaper. Reprinted with permission.
Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series on Charlotte County elected officials.

Sheriff John Davenport was elected Sheriff of Charlotte County on Nov. 2, 2004, and took office Jan. 4, 2005. Sheriff Davenport is dual-certified in corrections and law enforcement, and has been a law enforcement officer in Charlotte County for 27 years.

Sheriff Davenport has earned an associate’s degree in criminal justice, a bachelor’s degree in criminology and a master’s degree in public administration. Sheriff Davenport is also a graduate of the FBI National Academy.

In conducting research for this series, this writer was impressed by the fact that only Sheriff Davenport had published an organization chart for his department. This does not mean that other officials are delinquent, only that Sheriff Davenport took an extra step in his management approach.

In our interview, Sheriff Davenport stressed his desire to have more community involvement, and reiterated his proactive approach to crime prevention, instead of simply reacting to service calls.

Basically, the Sheriff’s Office is organized with three logical bureaus, Law Enforcement, Corrections and Administration, all reporting to the Sheriff through his Chief Deputy, Bill Cameron. The Finance Division and Accreditation Unit report directly to the Sheriff. An exemplar of the organization is available to the public on the Sheriff’s Web site at www.ccso.org. First, we will review the organizational structure, then cover each bureau in detail as space permits.

The Bureau of Law Enforcement is under the command of Major Mark Caro. The Uniformed Patrol Division is the most visible to the general public. It operates primarily in marked patrol cars or motorcycles. They respond to dispatch calls for citizen assistance, crime reports, traffic accidents and generally act in support of other, more-specialized groups when required. The deputies assist in the service of civil papers and warrants, as well as responding to calls for service. The deputies also assist the various fire and rescue units in the community.

The patrol division prevents street crimes through visible proactive patrol; conducting preliminary on-scene investigations when appropriate; reducing traffic congestion and accident hazards by enforcement of traffic laws; responding to vehicle accidents and rendering aid to victims; assisting citizens in dealing with legal, medical, social or humanitarian problems through direct crisis intervention and/or making referrals to agencies equipped to deal with such problems; and improving law enforcement and community relations by increasing the quality and quantity of contact between citizens and the Sheriff’s Office. The patrol division contains the first responders of the agency and handles the majority of incidents that are reported. The county is divided into four geographical districts, each with its own group of watch (duty period) commanders.

The second division in this bureau is Criminal Investigations, which in turn has three sections, Narcotics, Investigations and Special Investigations. The Narcotics Unit conducts both overt and covert operations. The Investigations Section handles major crimes, juvenile sex crimes, district investigations and crime scene investigations. Special Investigations handles economic “white collar” crimes, computer crimes and crime analysis, including statistics. Pawn crimes, those involving stolen and pawned items, career criminals and the criminal intelligence units are all under Special Investigations, as is the evidence storeroom and its associated records.

Two sections in the Bureau of Law Enforcement, Field Operations and Special Operations, report directly to Major Caro. Field Operations includes the K-9 unit, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team, and Traffic. The Special Operations section includes the Aviation Unit and Marine Patrol. Mounted (horse) Patrol and Dive/Rescue units are on-call as needed. The Mounted Patrol Officers volunteer the use of their own horses. The Aviation unit provides air support for field operations, search and rescue missions and preventive patrols with both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. It also shares services with county Environmental Services for mosquito control.

Major Tony Penland is the bureau chief of the Bureau of Corrections that consists of the county jail on Airport Road, and the related administrative and support services associated with jail operations.

I was particularly impressed during my tour of the jail with the professional attitude of the corrections supervisors and officers, and their firmness in inmate detention and control, mixed with compassion and understanding.

While the jail is no Holiday Inn, it is a modern, well-kept and managed facility, and lightyears away from the old “graybar hotels” of a few years ago. Meals are prepared for staff and inmates in a central kitchen. Food trays are prepared and delivered to inmates on hospital-type carts.

There are four types of jails in current use in the United States.: linear, direct supervision, indirect supervision and dormitory. The linear facility has the prisoners housed in cells, usually one or two-person cages, or housing units. The corrections officer is physically separated from the inmate. This tends to generate a psychological separation, and tends, over time, to engender dangerous attitudes toward the corrections officer. Linear design, also known as “intermittent surveillance design,” does not provide continuous observation. Interpersonal problems can develop between inmates when unobserved, and result in situations dangerous to control.

The direct supervision type, used in the Charlotte County Jail, places the corrections officer’s station within the inmate living area, or “pod.” By placing the officer in the pod, there is an increased awareness of the behaviors and needs of the inmates. This results in creating a safer environment for both staff and inmates. Since interaction between inmates is constantly and closely monitored, dissension can be quickly detected before it escalates. Inmates who show signs of becoming unruly also can be quickly identified and removed to a more secure living unit/pod. During the day, inmates usually stay in the open area (dayroom) but are permitted to go into their rooms. The officer controls door locks to cells from the control panel. Functions of this panel can be switched to a panel at a remote location, usually known as “central control,” when the officer leaves the station for an extended time. The officer also is wearing a small radio on his shirtfront that permits immediate communication with the jail’s central control center if the need should arise. The dayroom area is covered by a video camera that is also monitored in the central control room.

Maintenance costs are lower in direct supervision pods because the close supervision reduces misuse and harm to equipment, furnishings and walls. This style of inmate supervision performed by welltrained officers creates a more positive environment than other types of supervision methods. The stress on officers and inmates alike is greatly reduced. From a liability standpoint, the jail and county’s liability will be reduced as a result of less litigation arising from unobserved behavior, such as suicide, fights, sexual assaults, accidents and unexpected medical emergencies.

Direct supervision design is most relevant to the housing of medium- and minimum-supervision inmates. These are inmates who are not considered to be violent or disruptive in the jail environment. This arrangement is very suitable for a county jail where inmates are usually in temporary custody, often only because of inability to “bond out,” with many not yet arraigned before a judge, or adjudicated guilty of any crime. This design is not usually employed for the supervision of maximum custody inmates.

Indirect supervision is a variant of direct supervision. A similar pod arrangement is established with surveillance by the correction officer from an elevated, glassed-in, observation booth. While this is an improvement over linear jail management, it lacks the important factor of personal officer/inmate contact.

The fourth method of jail management is the “dormitory,” usually most suitable for custodial care for juveniles and trustees. It is structured more like a barracks, with large bunkrooms for inmates. This system is planned as part of the county jail expansion.

The Bureau of Corrections Administrative and Support Services sections handle court liaison, primarily with the staff of the Clerk of the Court. They also provide the bailiffs for court security and the Warrant Squad who seek out wanted persons and serve warrants for court appearances. The squad arrested more than 250 wanted suspects in 2004. The Civil Division unit serves the civil legal processes including writs, court orders and other court papers.

The third bureau in the new organization structure recently established by Sheriff Davenport is the Bureau of Administration headed by Major Dan Libby. Establishment of this support bureau has freed the other bureau commanders to concentrate on their functional duties.

The first division under Major Libby is the Logistics Division, consisting of four units: Communications, Fleet (vehicles), Radios and Supply/Receiving. The Human Resources (personnel) and Management Information Systems (MIS/IT) computers divisions, and Emergency 911, Records and Community Policing Sections complete the administration organization under Major Libby. The Community Policing Section has six special units assigned: Community Relations, Parking Enforcement, Reserve Officers, Community Policing Officers, Alarms (inspections and installations) and Juvenile Operations. Juvenile Operations includes the Police Athletic League (PAL), Shocap/Gang Unit, and the all important School Resource Officers. An Explorer Boy Scout Troop is an important factor in pro-active crime prevention. Parking enforcement and reserve deputies are community civilian volunteers who assist or supplement the certified deputies in their work.

The last division is the Professional Standards and Training Division, which reports directly to Chief Deputy Bill Cameron. This primarily internal organization is comprised of the Internal Affairs unit, Staff Inspectors unit, and the Training Section. A special unit, Hostage Negotiation or Crisis Management Team, is on-call in case of a barricade/hostage situation.

Sheriff Davenport told me he wants the public to have a better understanding of the Office of Sheriff, and where your tax dollars go. In his message to the public on taking office, he stated he is committed to providing the most efficient public safety services possible at a reasonable cost to the taxpayers. I think this is true of all the elected officials with whom I have met during development of this series. However, Sheriff Davenport seems to have a specific proactive strategy to accomplish this goal.

Some of the proactive strategies he has planned include:

  •  Providing additional school resource officers in the elementary schools.
  • Increasing the number of traffic officers to curb problems associated with our growth.
  • Directing resources to drug and alcohol abuse education, prevention and enforcement.

The school resource officers offer excellent role models for the students at an impressionable age, and can serve as mentors for responsibility in resisting peer pressures.

Putting more traffic officers on the streets may seem a mixed blessing to some, but how often have we been passed by speeders on West Marion Avenue, U.S. 41, State Road 776 or almost any other main street and thought, “Where are the police officers when you need them?”

Substance abuse education, prevention, and enforcement can have related benefits in reducing major crimes. All one has to do is read the newspaper to see how drug or alcohol abuse leads to more serious law violations, some of which might never have occurred without the addition of substance abuse to the equation.

The cooperation and assistance of Sheriff Davenport and his staff in the research for this report is gratefully acknowledged.

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