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S.O. faces many challenges

By By JOHN DILMORE JR. Publisher
Escambia County Sheriff Grover Smith was Chief of Police in the City of Brewton for 12 years. During that time, he covered an approximately seven-mile by three-mile area with 20 officers.
Now, as sheriff, Smith finds himself covering an area roughly 55 miles long and 18 miles wide with about the same number of officers. And therein lies his department's greatest challenge.
Smith has taken several measures to try and improve the department's coverage of the county, especially in the evening.
While covering such a large land area will likely always present challenges, one thing that has gotten easier for the department is communicating over those great distances.
The use of new Southern Link wireless radios has made clear and immediate communication from one end of the county to the other much easier, Smith said.
Another technological innovations the department is implementing is the use of digital recording when conducting discovery work in cases.
The new equipment and technologies are largely the result of the county's "Click It Or Ticket" program, which allows the sheriff's office to earn grant monies through enforcement of seatbelt and child restraint laws.
The funds have been used to purchase new cameras and radar guns as well.
Any equipment can be put to good use, as the crime-related challenges the sheriff's office faces are many.
Among the greatest of these are the problems created by drug and alcohol abuse in the county.
Which could land them right in the Escambia County Jail. If so, they'll be one of approximately 90 inmates incarcerated there. That number is down considerably from the 120-plus behind bars at one time.
Smith said the District Attorney's Office has worked well with his department to lower the number of people in jail at any one time. Moving cases through the system promptly was the biggest factor in bringing this improvement about.
Now, that work is in danger of being undone by staffing cuts within the county court system made necessary by reductions in state funding.
Three deputy circuit clerks, who help shepherd cases through the system smoothly, are being laid off, and the county's judges are also faced with having to reduce the number of jurors called to hear cases.
These changes will no doubt work their way back to the jail, Smith said.
The jail's maximum capacity is 142. It is divided into five units: a unit for female prisoners, a small maximum security unit, two larger minimum security units and a dormitory for trustees.