Nelson speaks on sheriff’s department goals

Published 11:00 am Tuesday, October 31, 2023

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Sheriff Jeff Nelson spoke on the goals of the Chambers County Sheriff’s Department during a countywide elected officials meeting on Monday. 

The meeting was held at the Greater Valley Area Chamber of Commerce, and is primarily used for the mayors of Chambers County to meet with each other and the County Attorney Skip McCoy, County Manager Regina Chambers and County Engineer Josh Harvill.

However, this meeting also included a handful of other elected officials from around the county. Commissioner Debra Riley says said the meetings are used to help build relationships with the towns and cities in the community. When Riley asked the mayors what issues they wanted to discuss at the meeting, many wanted to hear from Nelsonthe Sheriff. 

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Nelson spoke on the progress his department has made since being he was elected sSheriff last year. The most headway has been made on the issue of patrolling. The relatively low wages for deputies, compared to neighboring counties, have contributed to a high rate of officer turnover for many years. 

The County county Commission commission recently helped in raising the base pay of deputies to incentivize applicants. They have also implemented raises based on years of service in hopes of retaining officers longer.

Currently, there are four, three-person shifts, patrolling the county. Nelson plans to hire for another person to join each shift. The cCommission also greenlit the purchase of 13 new patrol cars for the Sheriff’s Department, to replace those with high mileage. 

Nelson also discussed plans for the coverage of the Huguley area that the county will acquire in January. Since the city of Lanett voted to push back its police jurisdiction to the city limits, Nelson’s deputies will be assigned to cover the area next year. 

Nelson said he plans to convert a building on Phillips Road that the sheriff’s office uses for training and storage as a substation for sheriff’s deputies patrolling the Huguley area.

A large part of the meeting was devoted to the mental health of inmates at the Chambers County Detention Facility. Nelson said the jails have turned into mental health hospitals. He attributes the increase  people in crisis in part to COVID-19, as well as a lack in funding for services by the state. While he said the number of inmates in crisis is an issue of training.

“Jail is not where some of these people need to be,” said Nelson said. 

It is not uncommon for an officer to get calls about someone going through a mental health crisis and drop them off at the jail, according to Nelson.  

The biggest expenditure for the jail are the inmates. Food, medication, clothes and any other cost of living falls to the county to pay. This cost increases when an inmate needs a mental health evaluation or medication. 

Nelson wants to get provide mental health training for his deputies and the county’s police officers, so they can identify someone in crisis. Then, they those inmates can avoid jail time and get thembenefit from the resources they need. 

The sheriff also wants to address the detention center’s maintenance going forward.

“We have had a construction company come in and evaluate, so we’re going to start on the renovations and repairs on the jail [next year],” said Nelson said.

After Nelson presented, the floor was open. Riley discussed the success of the Chambers County Community Health & Wellness Center, which won an award for efficiency and innovation in county governance in August. The center is a partnership between Auburn University, Lafayette County,the city of LaFayette and the commission. 

It was announced Sam Bradford, the Chambers County Commissioner for District 4, also won a state award from Alabama PALS (People Against a Littered State) for the Anti-Litter Project he has spearheaded.