COLUMBIA — Only five years have passed since Proposition L, a one-eighth-cent law-enforcement sales tax, was approved by Boone County voters, and Sheriff Dwayne Carey can’t imagine how the Boone County Sheriff’s Department ever survived without it.
“If we didn’t have Prop. L, I don’t know what kind of shape we’d be in,” said Carey, who’s nearing the end of his second year as sheriff.
The tax has been integral to the department’s efforts to beef up its ranks and its technology. Since 2003, the department has hired 11 additional deputies, meeting one of the primary goals identified by supporters during the campaign for the tax.
The true cost for those positions, however, is more than meets the eye. In 2008, each deputy will cost the department more than $47,000 in salary and benefits alone. Add to that the $40,000-plus that it costs to outfit each deputy for a year, and it’s easy to see how those expenses account for more than 80 percent of the $15.6 million spent through the Proposition L fund thus far.
Revenue generated through Proposition L has grown each year, although growth has slowed over the past two years because of the volatility of sales tax and related economic factors. In 2006, it generated $2.9 million; it’s expected to eclipse that number by an additional half percent both this year and next.
Most of the money is split between the sheriff’s department and the jail operation, but the prosecuting attorney’s office, the alternative sentencing program and out-of-county housing for inmates get smaller shares of the financial pie. The sheriff’s department is expected to receive $1.2 million from the fund next year, a sizable portion of its proposed budget of about $5 million This does not include funds appropriated to corrections.
The Proposition L proceeds have also been used to provide additional training for officers.
“To maintain certification as a peace officer, you have to do 48 hours (of training) every three years,” Carey said, explaining that the mandatory training, which will cost the department $30,499 in 2008, was already covered within the training budget and does not require Proposition L funding.
But with Proposition L, the department now can afford training in expert fields such as the use of tactical weapons and the analysis of blood spatter. That will help deputies adapt to a variety of complex situations, Carey said.
“I feel that for us to be proactive, we need this extra training,” Carey said. “If you’re asking them to (handle) a shooting in a school, or a terrorist situation ... whatever the case may be, you have to have expertise training.”
The fund has also proved especially valuable in ensuring the department has the most up-to-date technology.
“We’ve been able to acquire so much equipment,” Carey said, including computer hardware, weapons, ammunition and various minor accessories.
One technological addition is a new global positioning system that Carey says will be installed in patrol cars. This will allow the department to locate any patrol car, or officer, with the push of a button.
For instance, if an officer doesn’t answer a status check, the department can find exactly where the car is, Carey said. “We can (then) send reinforcements — the cavalry, if you will — to assist them.”
Beyond the obvious functionality, the GPS is also expected to save the department money on communications by automating location information. But it won’t come cheap. It will cost the department more than $120,000 this year.
Thanks largely to Proposition L, the department’s patrol cars already are technologically advanced. Each car is equipped with laptops called “mobile data terminals” that enable officers to perform a variety of tasks such as running background checks on suspects and checking for warrants in addition to normal Internet functions, such as checking e-mail. The MDTs cost more than $6,000 per car but have been worth the cost, according to Tom Karl, a former law-enforcement officer who now works as the computer operations analyst at the Boone County Information Technology Department.
“Years ago, when I was a cop, the radio traffic was so bad you couldn’t even call in emergency (situations),” Karl said.
MDTs allow officers to make and receive calls without having to route every call through joint communications. That reduces the burden on the joint communications staff and frees up the radio waves for emergency situations.
A law-enforcement officer until 1997, Karl had a unique perspective as someone who has worked in both law enforcement and information technology. After seeing how technology benefited the private sector, Karl said he wondered: “Why is this not happening in law enforcement?”
One key problem, he said, was that the public sector didn’t look to technology as an important means to save money in the same way as private businesses did.
“It’s a time saver (and) a money saver,” he concluded.