By Jason A. Smith
Henry County Sheriff Keith McBrayer said he has had a busy year since taking the helm at his agency nearly a year ago.
"You're never going to catch up, because the warrants are coming in constantly and people are being arrested constantly. Sadly, it's a cycle that will continue. Sheriff's deputies arrest about half of everybody that comes into this jail," he said.
Some 13,000 people were processed through the jail this year, he said, a total which is roughly on par with that of 2008.
Two projects implemented by the Sheriff's Office contributed to its success in 2009, McBrayer said. One is the Church Security and Safety Program. The other is the online sex offender program.
The security program instructs church leaders on how they can protect their facilities and their congregations. More than 40 churches have taken part in the program since its inaugural session in August. "I'm proud of the ... program, because it has reached out and touched a lot of people," said McBrayer. "We've actually been contacted by some churches and some law-enforcement agencies from other states ... wanting to know if we would give them that information."
McBrayer said he has put together an online system that can be seen on the department's web site using OffenderWatch, a program that contains details about sex offenders' whereabouts.
"A citizen can actually click on Offender Watch, put the address in that they're concerned about, and it will show any sex offenders that are registered that live within a two-mile area of their house or their school," said McBrayer. "Currently, we are tracking 210 sex offenders."
McBrayer said members of his public relations staff have visited local senior centers in recent months to increase awareness of "con men" and safety issues.
In other action, the sheriff said an expansion of the jail, completed in January, has improved accommodations for approximately 760 daily inmates at the facility. He said seemingly routine tasks, such as feeding jail inmates, can be a significant undertaking.
"When you're serving 750-800 meals, by the time they get everything cleaned and all the dishes washed, it's time to start another meal," McBrayer added. "It's almost like running a small city right here inside this building."
He said, however, certain aspects of the jail expansion are still in need of work. "We will have to remodel some of the old pods, where high-risk inmates and females are housed," he said. "When we were overcrowded in 2007 and 2008, we couldn't get in there to do some of the things we can do now."
Sheriff's Chief Deputy David McCart said a sense of "teamwork" among Sheriff's Office personnel has helped the agency thrive in 2009. To illustrate his point, McCart pointed to the duties performed by various deputies during the jail-expansion project.
"There were things happening in the background that people didn't see," he said. "When you're talking about 600-700 inmates, that's a big job."
McCart said a spirit of cooperation has not only been evident among deputies, but among area residents as well. He said a weekly most-wanted list in the Henry Daily Herald, has resulted in people being apprehended, because residents have contacted the agency upon recognizing suspects from their mugshots.
"It's showing that there are people in the community that are concerned, and they don't mind stepping up when called upon," he said.