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Sheriff addresses changes in service calls

Published: Thursday, July 24, 2014 11:08 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 8:17 p.m. CDT

NEWTON — Effective June 1, the Jasper County Sheriff’s Department ceased responding to non-emergency calls in the county, but the department will continue to respond to all emergency calls within the county. 

“If deputies are handling calls for service, in jurisdictions that provide their own law enforcement, and when no one is scheduled, this prevents us from performing our normal duties and obligations,” Jasper County Sheriff John Halferty said.

If the Jasper County Dispatch, which receives all emergency and non-emergency calls, receives a non-emergency call from a citizen in a city that does currently have a officer on duty, they will take the information and inform the reporting party when an officer is available, and one will be dispatched to handle the call.

The sheriff’s department is contracted by several towns in the county to provide law enforcement services. Those communities will continue to receive both emergency and non-emergency calls handled by the department. Halferty said this change is not an attempt to get other towns to contract their services and that they have provided the towns with a cost summary for their services versus keeping their own departments.

Towns that have their own police department, but do not have 24-hour coverage, will be without an official to cover non-emergency calls in times that an officer is not on duty. One of the towns now trying to find a new solution for coverage is Prairie City.

“The main objective we have at this point is to find the resources available to adequately cover the calls,” Prairie City Police Chief Will Mortensen said. He said he is currently working with the city council on a few options and hopes to have a plan by the next meeting. 

“If there is no action taken (by the police department) there will be a noticeable effect,” Mortensen said. Even with the changes, Mortensen said there is no animosity towards the sheriff’s department, and that he understands that sometimes changes have to happen.

Halferty sent out notification to all towns involved of the changes prior to them taking affect. He was contacted by the Monroe and Baxter city councils to speak on the matter and answered any questions they had. From those meetings, Halferty felt there was a good discussion and understanding about the new coverage.

Halferty also wanted to be clear the change is not a result of a deputy now being stationed at the courthouse at all times. 

“This decision had already been in place when we got the court order to provide courthouse security,” Halferty said.

Another concern from citizens has been about county taxes paying for services the sheriff’s office provides and now some of those services are gone, Halferty said. However, the tax money goes toward the Jasper County Jail and facilities, the dispatch that takes all calls, all emergency calls within the county and the times when towns need extra help and call on the sheriff’s office to fill in. It is only a small portion of their services that are no longer being offered.