Dec 302014

By Tammy Gray Improving existing services will be the main focus for the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office in the coming year. Sheriff KC Clark explained that he expects the budget to be tight, so there will be little in the way of capital improvements, salary increases or new equipment, but the new year will give the department an opportunity to focus on other improvements. One of the largest changes for deputies will be a new protocol for handling domestic violence. “Law enforcement is usually the first to show up, but what we can do is limited in the absence of a crime,” Clark said. He explained that the sheriff’s office has been working with the county attorney’s office, local shelters and the courts to develop a program to reduce domestic violence and provide services to victims even in cases where the actions deputies can take are limited. “We’ve come up with a protocol to train deputies to ask key questions,” Clark explained. If the questions reveal a propensity for abuse or violence in a home, the victim’s information will be forwarded to the county attorney’s victims services for counseling and other services. According to Clark, this will allow the county to provide education and desired services to victims even if no laws are broken. He explained that the ultimate goal is to educate and offer services to offenders and victims to try to break the cycle of abuse. In the jail, Clark noted that now that renovations are complete, staff will focus on providing additional services to inmates in an effort to reduce recidivism. Programs will focus on substance abuse and serious mental illness. He noted that without programs and follow-up care upon release, many inmates are likely to return to jail. Jail Commander Ernie Garcia is also working on a program that will allow inmates to retain state healthcare coverage. He explained that under the current system, when an individual is arrested he or she is immediately dropped from the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), which may sound appropriate on the surface, but is costly to taxpayers. According to Garcia, it can take weeks for an inmate to be reinstated upon release and in the meantime, they can have difficulty obtaining necessary prescription medications. “For example, if someone is on medication for a psychological condition and they can’t get their medicine, they tend to self-medicate and often end up committing another crime,” Garcia said. “This would save money on the back end and it’s good for the community to keep recidivism down.” Under the new program, inmates’ AHCCCS services would be suspended while they are incarcerated and reinstated when they are released. Garcia noted that it would provide individuals with seamless access to healthcare and make it possible for those on prescription medications to continue receiving them. The sheriff’s office is also looking forward to participating in a regional dispatch plan. Clark noted that progress is being made and he expects the regional center to come to fruition in 2015. “The fire departments are coming on board and I believe more police agencies will get on board,” he said. According to Clark, the regional center will save taxpayers money in the long run and will improve communication between agencies. He pointed out, for example, that during a recent robbery it was only by luck that all agencies received pertinent information in time to respond. A regional center will allow the same information to be distributed to all agencies at the same time. Clark noted that his biggest challenge in 2015 will likely be balancing the budget. He explained that the state is anticipating a shortfall, which has historically translated into cuts at the county level. “We plan on coming in under budget this year, which we have for the last five or six years, but I’m nervous about the state budget in the coming fiscal year,” he said. “We are looking at ways to make sure our belt is tight and we can continue to survive.”