SNEEDVILLE — Hancock Co. Sheriff Brad Brewer said at Monday night’s meeting of the County Commission that the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association is in the process of working with the state to remove from local sheriffs’ offices the responsibility for transporting “non-combative” patients to mental health facilities.
Right now, Brewer said, his deputies average making two to three trips a week, sometimes more, to transport persons to mental health facilities as far away as Chattanooga.
“Its wearing me out, it a dead expense,” he said at the Aug. 12, 2019 meeting.
The plan as presented to him, he said, is to work with the Governor and State Legislature to try and make that happen.
“What Gov. (Bill) Lee has done is set aside $4 million in grants,” he explained. “Right now, we are to keep up with our mileage, amount that I spend on officers’ time, keep up with everything from ‘point A’ to ‘point B’. We will submit that to them and get reimbursement.”
But that, he said, is only a temporary solution.
Legislation is pending in Nashville that would fix that permanently, if approved by the General Assembly, but Brewer said, on the other hand, that it would put an added responsibility on local ambulance services, which would then be responsible for transporting from hospitals to mental health facilities “non-combative” patients. But, he said, the other side of that coin is, the EMS could then bill that person’s insurance for the cost, if they have coverage.
As part of that plan, the governor is in the process of putting in place transport companies across the state that could step in and transport “non-combative” patients if, for any reason, a local EMS provider could not, he said.
One commissioner asked why Constables can’t transport those patients.
“I don’t know that they can’t or that they can,” Brewer responded. “I’ve never been asked that before. They are elected officials.”
One commissioner remarked that he, personally, would love to know what the required duties of a constable are as defined by state law.
Brewer said that the yearly drain on his budget to transport mental patients is substantial.
“By the time I send someone to Chattanooga, from here, and buy the gas, that’s four hours there and four hours back, and two tanks of gas, and I have spent $500, in fuel, wear-and-tear and salaries,” he said. “I don’t care to do it and the law says its my responsibility, but when you are doing one or two of those a week you spend money in a hurry.”
Brewer said that much of the proposal is still tentative and must be approved by the State’s General Assembly. That body won’t meet again until early 2020.
“Right now, until this gets passed, it is still law enforcement’s responsibility to transport (persons to mental health facilities),” he said. “And even if this does pass, if someone is irate or combative, it will still be on law enforcement to transport.”
Another issue that is frequently an issue is finding a female officer to accompany a combative female patient to a mental health facility. Right now, there are only two female officers and if one of those is scheduled to work a normal shift, a round-trip to a Chattanooga facility means calling in someone to cover her shift, plus having to pay overtime, which is yet another expense.
Brewer said that, now, the sheriff’s office cannot bill an insurance company for the cost of transporting.
“There’s some weeks we take one (patient) every day, but most weeks we average at least two a week, most of them to Woodridge,” Brewer said of overall mental patient transports.
The sheriff concluded with a plea to Commissioners to speak to anyone they know at the legislative level in Nashville to try to get the bill passed.
“If you guys have any influence with anybody, please let them know that this is a big deal for us, and would really help us financially,” Brewer said.
Sheriff’s financial report givenIn his reports, Brewer said that, during July, his department spent $3,169.14 on fuel.
For the same month, the Sheriff’s Office collected $210 in civil papers’ processing fees; $2,373 from the work release program; commissary sales brought in $4,206; a miscellaneous refund amounting to $8; $150 in fees for vehicles towed to the Sheriff’s impound lot; $150 from sexual offender registration fees; $1,455.40 from the Governor’s Highway Safety initiative grant to reimburse the office for funds spent on overtime during enforcement campaigns; a $700 donation from a person who wishes to remain anonymous, which the donor asked be used for the drug fund for the office’s K-9 unit; $700 brought in as a result of a benefit basketball game sponsored by the Rescue Squad benefitting the annual “Shop With a Cop” Christmas gift-giving campaign for needy children; $56.25 in restitution that came through Sessions Court; and a revoked license fee of $40, for a total of $10,048.65 collected.
Sheriff Brewer asked that the $1,455.40 grant be added to the “deputies” line item in his budget as reimbursement for overtime that has already been paid out, and that the $700 anonymous donation be included in the “drug fund” line to comply with the donor’s wish.
”Shop With a Cop” fundraiser brings in $700 donationIn the “Shop With a Cop” event, uniformed officers use the money in early December to take underprivileged children to buy Christmas gifts.
“That is at no cost to the Commission,” Brewer said of the Christmastime event, and added that there will hopefully be more fundraisers held prior to that time to add to the amount that is available for gift buying.
Brewer said that how to determine which children are chosen will be difficult, because there are so many in need.
“Somebody that’s around them everyday probably needs to be the one that picks them and knows what the needs are,” Brewer said, adding that teachers would be the most logical choice to help with the selection. “I want to be sure we are fair about it and do the right thing, but the truth is, I can’t take everybody, and I sure don’t want to hurt any kid’s feelings,” he said.
With no further discussion, the board voted unanimously to approve the sheriff’s requests.
Hancock County approved for two School Resource OfficersIn other matters, Brewer said that he had spoken with Director of Schools Tony Seal and that Gov. Bill Lee is giving all “distressed” counties in the state two School Resource Officers out of recurring money.
“That’s a done deal,” Brewer said.
Seal, Brewer said, is planning to station one at the Early Learning Center and one at Hancock Co. Middle School.
With those resource officers may also come some used cruisers.
“That would be an old Trooper car, something that’s been turned back in to State Surplus,” he said.
If that doesn’t happen, Brewer said he has an option through the Jefferson Co. Sheriff’s Office to obtain two used Dodge Chargers — with police equipment packages — for $2,500 each, if the Commission approves.
“You can’t buy the light bars for that price,” he said. “We’re actually foolish if we don’t get them anyway.”
Brewer said that he could use funds from the sale of old surplus sheriff’s office vehicles that will soon be auctioned off to help pay for the newer cruisers which would be welcome additions to his fleet.
“I don’t know that we’ll get enough out of that to completely pay for them, but its a pretty good deal, regardless,” he said.