By Jason A. Smith
Most of the 908 beds in the Henry County Jail have an inmate in them. The jail's current population is 750, according to Sheriff Keith McBrayer, and 120 of those inmates are women.
Henry County Police Chief Keith Nichols said he is concerned about the safety of his officers in the wake of two of them losing their lives in traffic fatalities.
The two comments were given to the Henry County Commission, and members of the county's legislative delegation, this week, as a part of a year-in-review of concerns in the area of public safety.
Henry's Interim Fire Chief Bill Lacy joined the two lawmen, saying his department is on track to run 21,000 emergency calls in 2010.
The presentations are made routinely to inform, and enlist the help of, lawmakers and commissioners in meeting the needs of the three departments.
In the jail's population, Sheriff McBrayer said he is seeing a surprising, upward trend in female inmates. "The sad part is, the numbers of females seem to be climbing," he said. "We've opened up [a] pod that we weren't planning to open. Between that and a trustees dorm, we're probably going to have to open up [more], if this continues, because I can only put 128 females in that area, and we're bumping that right now."
McBrayer said 2010 was "a very productive year" for the 310 employees of his agency, which includes 12 school resource officers, for Henry's 53 schools.
The jail staff serves 2,300 meals per day, or 840,000 meals per year, at a cost of 92 cents per meal, he said. His deputies arrested 6,000 people on warrants, and handled about nine evictions per day, and his agency monitors 210 registered sex offenders, he said.
The sheriff also reported that his office has turned about $735,000 back to Henry County in fees collected. The sheriff's office, he added, received $46,000 in reimbursement funds, for the cost of illegal aliens incarcerated at the jail. He also reported a phone card program for inmates that he estimates will net $40,000 to $50,000 to the county.
Police Chief Nichols' report had a somber tone, however. Nichols was appointed in July to head a unit of 247 sworn officers and 50 civilians. He said, while there have been recent fatal shootings involving two lawmen in the state, he is not as worried about that as he is the danger his officers face, on the road, from traffic accidents.
"I've lost two officers since we started the department to traffic fatalities," Nichols told those in attendance. "That's my big fear. More officers are killed in traffic fatalities ... than by guns, or anything else."
Altogether, there were 27 traffic fatalities in Henry County, said Nichols. The chief added that, while he is "empowered" by the laws in place statewide, he is concerned about a Georgia law, which allows those fleeing, or eluding a police officer, to be treated less severely than those committing other offenses.
"Anytime you run from a police officer, it should be a felony," Nichols said. "I know a lot of times, laws get downgraded or watered down. That does not need to be downgraded to a misdemeanor."
He said he plans in 2011, to be "proactive" about seatbelt enforcement to promote driver safety. Nichols said he hopes to improve relationships with city police chiefs in Henry, as well as with the District Attorney's Office.
Interim Fire Chief Lacy said his office is facing a big challenge. The emergency activity is his department's operations division has risen significantly in recent years, taxing his 296 employees, and 13 fire stations.
"Our operations division is on track to run 21,000 emergency calls this year," he said. "This represents a 15-percent increase in emergency calls over 2007."
He added that, along with investigating arsons, locally, the fire department's Prevention Division works to educate the public about how to lower the risk of fire.
"We've seen about 49,000 people this year, and given them some sort of instruction through our education division," he said. "The majority of that would be children that are seen in our school system, on an annual basis."