Make no bones about it – Phillips County is facing a serious jail problem as well as an increasing crime rate.
Local Rotarians heard it straight from the horse's mouth – PC Sheriff Neal Byrd – at Wednesday's noon luncheon meeting.
“I welcome the opportunity to speak to the Rotary Club today,” he began. “I have a lot of respect for this civic organization. I also care deeply about the future of Phillips County. I have an open door and I am willing to share thoughts about what together we can do to make this a better place to live.”
The county's jail woes dropped into Byrd's lap when he took office back in January 2013. According to Byrd, the jail fell into bad condition and records were not being kept.
“I am not saying this to cast a bad light on anyone,” he stated. “However, I had no other choice but to close the jail after seeing the deplorable conditions there.”
Byrd noted that some of the jail cell doors had been torn off their hinges and some bars had been bent. The jail failed its state inspection.
Currently, the booking room and some offices are operational at the old jail site. Byrd reported that thanks to the help of a couple of local businessmen, a holding cell is available prior to transfers to other county facilities.
The sheriff has a plan in place to get the jail open.
“We can use what is workable and build new cell blocks,” said Byrd. “It can be operated in a safe manner and built at a lower cost.”
The plan, continued Byrd, was discussed at Tuesday night's Phillips County Quorum Court session. He added that he hoped it would be put to a vote as early as the February meeting. The sheriff called this a “move forward in the right direction.”
Benchmark Construction is being considered for the project. Byrd noted that the company specializes in building jails.
“It will be state-of-the-art,” he stressed. “It would house 50 to 60 beds.”
Byrd noted that the bond issue on the old jail would be paid off before the end of the year.
Since taking office, Byrd reported that the PSCO had obtained some new vehicles, body armor for the deputies and has added a police dog.
“I am very proud of the staff,” Byrd commented with pride. “I simply couldn't do this job without them.”
Addressing the increasing crime in the community and county, the sheriff called it “a major concern.”
“Law enforcement is a tough job,” stated Byrd. “We must all pull together to fight it. Crime threatens the quality of life in our community and county.”
Byrd told the attentive Rotarians that he has offered the PCSO's support in helping patrol the city.
Page 2 of 2 - “All Chief (Uless) Wallace and Mayor (Arnell) Willis have to do is ask,” commented the sheriff.
In order to be successful, Byrd says it is imperative that the Sheriff's Office gains the trust of the people that it serves.
“I feel that we have done that,” he added.
Sheriff Byrd briefly discussed proper procedures of law enforcement.
“We must make arrests and we must make them according to the law,” he stated.
Byrd added that he frequently counsels with some prisoners before they are released.
“I go as far as discuss The Bible with them,” he continued.
“We must pray and ask God to guide us,” the sheriff noted in reference to crime.
During a brief question and answer session, Byrd reported that the PCSO had made seven drug-related arrests over a 10-day period. Thirty-six drug arrests have been made in the past month to six weeks.
“We are trying very hard to get the drugs off our streets,” he commented.
Asked about the transportation of prisoners to other counties, Byrd replied that the financial burden was unbearable for the county. According to his figures, the county spent roughly $420,000 during only an 8-month stretch.
“We've got to get a jail back in the county for the sake of liability alone,” Byrd stressed. “Transferring these prisoners is a very dangerous proposition.”
Meanwhile, said the sheriff, the criminal mentality thinks as long as there is no place to house prisoners in the county, they can go about doing whatever they want to do.
In closing, Byrd stressed that the PCSO needs the public's support.
“Believe me, we are doing everything we can to protect you,” he said.