Twelve hour shifts, retooling equipment to keep JeffCo safe

The men and women who keep Jefferson County safe are now working longer shifts and answering twice as many calls without the help of some high tech tools. But sheriff's deputies found a way to manage the new workload using an old computer and a free program.

Over the last few years, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office has said goodbye to the helicopter, the possibility of re-opening the county jail in Bessemer for now, and 200 deputies. The remaining deputes are now working 12 hour shifts alternating between four and three day work weeks."It's been tough on the deputies working 12 hour shifts. Nut our position is we hunker down and work with the commission," said Sheriff Mike Hale.

Like other Jefferson County departments, the sheriff's budget has been drastically cut- 30 million dollars in just one year.

Funding for the sheriff's office is now at the 1993 funding level. But there's more people living in unincorporated areas without a city police force and twice as many calls.

But unlike the 90's when Deputy John Pennington worked the Center Point beat, fewer deputies are on the street and there's no time for roll call to help deputies swap information."They got their call screen and they already have calls backed up. As they are driving from their house to their beat, they're getting their call assignments," said Pennington.

The office started using a free mapping program in October to help deputies track what's going on throughout the county and to catch them up on what was missed during their days off.

"The quicker we can get an idea of what's going on and who's responsible for it, the quicker we can begin to work that," said Pennington.

Searches can be done by crime, suspect or area. It can connect a seemingly isolated event to several others. The map also pinpoints hot spots where traffic stops can turn into arrests for outstanding warrants"There may be the perception out there now that we're an easier target area because of what we're struggling with," said Pennington.

But Pennington and Hale say that's certainly not the case.

The commission has recently renewed conversations about finding ways to re-open the jail in Bessemer to help relieve overcrowding and bring more deputies back to work. It would require an additional four million dollars. One idea would involve re-opening it floor by floor as money becomes available.