Gap in sheriff coverage upsets resident

By Andy Jackson: CNJ staff writer

Sarah Benard was surprised when Curry County sheriff’s deputies couldn’t respond to her call earlier this month.

She tried to report someone stealing expensive construction equipment from her front porch earlier this month around 3 a.m., only to learn the Sheriff’s Office is off duty between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.

“I feel I have paid all my taxes. And I’m sitting here as Joe citizen thinking if I dial 911, I will get help. But it wasn’t there,” she said.

Benard, who lives three miles outside of Clovis, said her dog scared off the thief and state police did investigate after a telephone conversation.

But she was expecting county law officers to be close by and able to respond.

“I don’t understand why there are no deputies after 2 a.m.,” she said. “That’s when they (thieves) come out and steal things. They don’t do it in broad daylight,” Benard said.

Officials said Benard’s concerns are legitimate, but there are simply not enough deputies to cover the county around the clock.

The Curry County Sheriff’s Office has 10 deputies and two transport officers on staff, in addition to Sheriff Roger Hatcher and Undersheriff Doug Bowman, county officials said.

Administrative obligations eat up a lot of manpower during the day, Hatcher said.

Daily duties deputies in Curry County perform include: fingerprinting (for gun licenses and schools), delivering more than 400 civil papers per month, transporting prisoners to and from court, and extraditing up to 25 prisoners a month, Hatcher said.

“They do work overtime now, but have to be cautious and not get so tired where it could be dangerous for officers,” he said.

Hatcher said more money is needed for salary increases to attract and retain qualified deputies.

There is one deputy opening at present, Hatcher said. If the position were filled, the sheriff’s office still wouldn’t have enough manpower to work around the clock, Hatcher said.
County Manager Dick Smith said he’s aware of the money issues.

“A new budget is coming up. And I don’t like the idea of not having deputies out here. We’ll see if there’s money in the new year to add more deputies,” Smith said.

Hatcher thinks state police can handle calls such as Benard’s, but he wants more money and a larger staff to be able to respond around the clock. Hatcher often petitions the County Commission for funding increases, he said.

Roosevelt County is in the same situation as its northern neighbor.

Roosevelt County Sheriff Tom Gossett said he’s received complaints like Benard’s from Roosevelt County residents. He too requests funds from commissioners, he said.

“We don’t have the manpower to work 24 hours,” Gossett said of his staff of eight deputies.

Attracting uncertified officers at an hourly salary of $14 in Curry County and $11 in Roosevelt County is difficult, Gossett said. And the starting hourly salary for certified deputies in Curry County is $15.85, Hatcher said.

“We pay less than Curry County. If Curry County is having difficulty obtaining certified people, we’re certainly going to have a problem,” Gossett said.

Benard said she understands that funds may be tight, but she wants more of her tax dollars to go to law enforcement.

“I know a lot of tax dollars went to the civic center. I voted for that. But shouldn’t we have been more aware that funding needs to go to the Sheriff’s Department?” she said.

“I am a business person and I know where priorities lay. I think priority should go to sheriff’s deputies,” she said.