County law enforcement group eyes various issues

By AUTUMN HUGHES
Posted 9/14/18

While maintenance needs and a tour of the facility at the Bradley County Jail topped the agenda at last Friday’s Bradley County Commission’s Law Enforcement Committee meeting, several other items were discussed, including: POST Certified Officers at School Gates; Court Fines, Costs and Probations; and  Animal Control.

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County law enforcement group eyes various issues

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While maintenance needs and a tour of the facility at the Bradley County Jail topped the agenda at a recent Bradley County Commission Law Enforcement Committee meeting, several other items were discussed, including:

• POST Certified Officers at School Gates

Law Enforcement Committee Chairman Jeff Yarber said state statute calls for the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission certification rather than the Tennessee Corrections Institute certification for these personnel. Gate guards are posted at both Bradley Central and Walker Valley high schools.

Bradley County Sheriff Steve Lawson said he spoke with 10th Judicial District Attorney General Steve Crump and Bradley County Attorney Crystal Freiberg about this during the transition period before Lawson took office on Sept. 1. He said they all agree the school gate guards should be POST certified, which will make them full-time deputies who can work in other areas when school is not in session, or when needed. Lawson added he has received lots of compliments on these employees.

“They’re really good,” he said. “I think we’re where we need to be.”

To fund those positions, Lawson asked for $60,000 in supplemental funding from the county.

Lawson said he believes people “expect us to take care of their kids” and make the schools as safe as possible.

“We have absolutely got to stay on top of school security in Bradley County,” he added.

The committee approved a motion to send the additional $60,000 funding request to the Finance Committee.

• Court Fines, Costs and Probations

This issue was raised when local resident Daniel Batchelor came to the Bradley County Commission meeting on Aug. 27 to share his concerns, which were directed to the Law Enforcement Committee. Batchelor, who also attended the committee meeting at Yarber’s invitation, told the commissioners the court fines and costs, as well as the probation system, are unfair to low-income people.

Batchelor said if a person is arrested and can’t pay the entire fine and court costs within 30 days, they are put on probation where additional costs mount up.

“This is a major issue and it’s unfair … to the low-income people of Bradley County,” Batchelor said, adding he received a $50 traffic citation and is concerned about being able to pay for it.

Yarber said Batchelor’s fine was $50 but court costs brought the total amount up to about $600. He added he understand the judges have discretion on this issue and said – as a former probation officer – he considers the probation system as it is now almost “a debtor’s prison.”

County Commission Chairman Johnny Mull, a member of the Law Enforcement Committee until new committee appointments are announced, said he talked to Bradley County Circuit Court Clerk Gayla Miller, who told him her office can’t take partial payments unless a judge allows it.

Batchelor previously told commissioners it would cost him $40 to sign up for probation with payments of $25 per month. He told the committee if he had agreed to probation on his day in court he would have been charged that day with violation of probation, because “I didn’t even have the $40 to sign up.”

Batchelor reiterated this is an issue affecting low-income people and he doesn’t understand why partial payments are not allowed.

“I don’t think it’s fair,” he said, adding during his court appearance he saw other people facing the same issue.

Yarber indicated he agrees and said “we’re going to look at it.”

• Animal Control

Yarber said he hopes to get the District Attorney General’s office, SPCA of Bradley County, the county attorney and others together to discuss animal control concerns.

“We believe there needs to be a better understanding of the law,” Yarber said, adding there is no date set for that discussion.

Commissioner Howard Thompson referred to a dog bite incident earlier this summer, noting on Friday there was another problem that morning “with the same dog.” Lawson said deputies have been to the neighborhood “several times” and if the dog is found running loose again, the owner will be cited to court.

“We’re going to be fair but firm,” Lawson said, adding he will make sure his deputies are aware of the statewide leash law.

The incident earlier this summer was discussed in the Aug. 6 County Commission meeting, leading into broader discussion of the leash law.

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