Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Frontline Perspective of SB 329

This is a guest post written by Dan Kalbacher. I always appreciate Dan's point of view on the important issues, especially those relating to the law enforcement community, and this is certainly no exception.

Prior to leaving office Governor Tim Kaine had to issue a budget for the Commonwealth and given the financial difficulties faced throughout the Commonwealth that is a task that very few people would like to have. There are no real ways to hide the fact that nearly all areas would have to face serious cuts and be on the receiving end of some very tough decisions by legislators. There has always been talking about what services government should and shouldn't provide and I really have not seen many who advocate that public safety should be privatized. A key responsibility of government is to ensure that their constituents are safe in their everyday lives and first responders like police, sheriff and fire do that job. The proposed budget offered by Tim Kaine would have cut funding to Sheriff's Offices through the Commonwealth with nearly 20% of their budgets disappearing. Unlike police departments Sheriff's Offices are found in every jurisdiction in Virginia through Constitutional authority and often times are the only law enforcement agency in the respective county. Recently, the Washington Post had an article about a way to provide funding to Sheriff's Offices by increasing filing fees in civil court cases. As a deputy, some may question my partiality towards this piece of legislation but as someone who is moving to a jurisdiction that is serviced by only a Sheriff's Office I am completely in support of this. As a deputy in a county with a police department is primarily responsible for patrol this is so necessary because localities are facing equally difficult budgetary decisions themselves.

Sheriff's Offices receive a majority of their financial funding from the state and in some jurisdictions, specifically Northern Virginia the localities supplement that themselves as cost of living is outrageous and without it would severely hinder the respective agency's ability to hire the highest quality applicants. However, once your leave Northern Virginia many jurisdictions do not supplement the pay of their deputies and rely solely on state funding and those are the jurisdictions where these cuts are going to be felt the most. Nearly all jurisdictions outside of Northern Virginia only have a Sheriff's Office as the individual law enforcement agency and the cuts to state funding will have serious affects of their abilities to effectively keep their streets safe. Lack of funding means cuts in personnel, services and training which prior to this has already been significantly reduced in order to make ends meet at their levels. People expect public safety to be there no matter what but without the necessary funding the level most people expect will be significantly reduced.

The legislation that was introduced to help fill this void is SB329 which would help raise money to fund local Sheriff's Offices who are facing draconian level budget cuts this cycle. While many will argue that these increases will hurt the ability of businesses to file court cases we really need to look at the core functions of government which is to keep the public safe. In a debate, I remember Creigh Deeds stating that the highest responsibility of the government is to keep its citizen safe. In the end, people call the government, i.e. local law enforcement when they need emergency help.

In both criminal and civil court proceedings, deputy sheriffs provide a critical level of protection to those in the courtroom as well those individuals doing business in the courthouse such as filing paperwork, legal documents or anything else that they may need to do. A courthouse is obviously where criminal proceedings take place and after the very recent violence in the Fauquier County Courthouse where two court security deputies were shot in an attempted prisoner escape attempt it serves as a solid reminder that the courts in our Commonwealth are an extremely volatile environment where violence can happen without warning. While this escape attempt failed one can only imagine if it were successful how a small for could have responded to the incident and if the lives of those civilians in the area could have been jeopardized..

In addition to protecting the courts, deputy sheriffs are also responsible for serving court orders on the street such as evictions for landlords who have come to the courts for a legal recourse against tenants who have failed to fulfill their contractual obligations as tenants. While many view these instances as "routine" often times people hear about eviction process where tenants refuse to level or have essentially barricaded themselves within. Unlike civilian counterparts, sheriffs possess the legal authority to ensure the eviction process is carried out in a safe manner for everyone involved.

Finally, in jurisdictions like Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria for example, deputies are responsible for maintaining the detention facilities which house criminals with offenses as simple as failure to pay child support all the way to capital murder. For every violent, uncontrollable inmate someone has seen on any documentary each and every one of them has passed through a local detention facility or jail prior to their arrival at a Department of Corrections facility. Many times, especially in Virginia it is deputy sheriff's who are responsible for managing those inmates and ensuring they cause no further harm to themselves, other inmates and most importantly staff members.

It should also be noted to opponents of SB 329 that per the state Constitution the Sheriff of a locality is not legally required to provide security in civil court proceedings and this increase in filing fees would help ensure that those courtrooms are manned with the security that is necessary. For anyone who argues those civil court proceedings do not have the same potential for violence as a criminal court I challenge them to remember the tragedy in Fulton County Georgia where a judge was killed by an escaped prisoner while hearing a civil proceeding. All court proceedings can be extremely volatile and security is absolutely necessary. Those jurisdiction that are "full-service" Sheriff's Offices would have to cut services such as community based relation programs, DARE, School Security/Resource Officers, possibly SWAT positions (And rely on State Police assistance) and other area which residents enjoy receiving. While some could argue that these positions aren't necessary to the "core function" of public safety everything has a purpose in one way or another which is not always apparent on its face.

This bill will not solve all the problems that Sheriffs throughout the Commonwealth are going to face once the budget is finalized but without a doubt it will help immensely, especially to those jurisdictions without the luxury of their localities supplementing their pay. While many legislators are upset about these increased filing fees they must remember that some services cannot be privatized or even looked at in terms of what is going to save them money. These men and woman risk their lives everyday to do what the government is responsible for which is to keep it's residents safe in their everyday lives and this bill will help those men and women in uniform continue in that quest.


  1. Thank you for the brillaint post and as a LE officer in a SO in a poorer yet very large county this is a great way of keeping us on the street doing our job protecting the citizens.

  2. I don't want to see the sheriffs' budgets cut; but as a small business owner that relies on the civil courts to collect just debts and enforce contracts, I oppose the notion that I alone am being asked to fund the budget shortfall. If we are just speaking about an issue of court security, I would support fee increases shared by the civil, criminal and traffic divisions equally. Security is needed for all of these proceedings.