Personnel Request Raises Concerns About Drug Task Force Staffing

(Juneau) Potential challenges with the Sheriff’s Office’s Drug Task Force came to light during a discussion on personnel matters during Tuesday’s Dodge County Board Meeting. Findings from a preliminary assessment report by an outside auditing firm show that the county’s multi-jurisdictional drug task force is understaffed with two full-time and one part-time member. Matrix Consulting of California was hired in December to conduct an operational analysis of the Sheriff’s Department. Their report says task force staffing is (quote) “unsafe and is against best practices to conduct drug investigations.”

Matrix’s report also highlights an intra-agency agreement dated in January of 2015 that lists a total of 14 agencies. Matrix says that only eight agencies signed the document and none are currently active participants. The report states that some jurisdictions have an officer assigned but are not working on the task force and act as more of a liaison between the task force and their jurisdiction. Matrix says (quote) “they will assist when needed but do not carry caseloads from the task force.”

They add that the small size of the task force severely limits the ability of the unit to perform typical operations such as investigating drug houses, informant handling, vehicle surveillance and the execution of search warrants. In their conclusion, Matrix says (quote) “the Sheriff’s Office should work with other law enforcement agencies in the county to create a true task force” and if this cannot be done “consider reforming the drug task force into a two deputy county interdiction team.

The findings were discussed as part of a request by Sheriff Dale Schmidt to convert a detective’s position on the task force to a sergeant’s position. Schmidt says the intent would be to change the organizational structure of the task force to create a supervisory role to better operate the unit. Currently, a detective oversees the task force. The Matrix report says (quote) “the primary responsibility of the unit lead is to supervise the unit, not solely conduct investigations” and adds “the unit should be supervised by a trained, experienced sergeant.” Schmidt says the move would be budget neutral as both positions have the same wages. Supervisor Kira Sheahan-Malloy says it would be better to wait until Matrix presents their final report to the county board before making any structural changes to the drug task force.

Supervisor Thomas Nickel says delaying this decision hurts the Sheriff’s ability to combat the drug epidemic.

Schmidt says the drug task force is equipped to handle drug investigations but requires pulling resources elsewhere in order to adequately do their job. He says a lack of funding has resulted in low staff numbers and makes it difficult to do what they want to do with the task force. Schmidt noted neighboring agencies are and have always been willing participants in the task force, routinely serving as a liaison during search warrants and other criminal investigations which is how it has always been. He cited budgetary issues as a roadblock prohibiting other agencies’ ability to invest a full-time staff member to the task force.

The county board ultimately voted to postpone any position changes within the Sheriff’s Office until the Matrix analysis is completed in August and a plan of operation is adopted to address staffing levels within the department.