JEFFERSON — The Ashe County Sheriff’s Office received a financial boost Monday, July 20 when the Ashe County Board of Commissioners signed off on their end of a grant worth more than $600,000.
The grant is the COPS Hiring Program from the U.S. Department of Justice, which “provides funding to hire and re-hire entry level career law enforcement officers in order to preserve jobs, increase community policing capacities and support crime prevention efforts.”
The money from the grant will go to the hiring of four new deputies for the ACSO, which Sheriff B. Phil Howell said will be a big boost to the whole department.
“In 2005, our calls for service, which is everything that a deputy has touched, was a little over 5,000 calls. When we ran the numbers last year, we were at 14,000. Our call volume has tripled in 15 years, but the staffing on the actual road deputy patrol has not increased at all,” Howell said.
The ACSO was awarded $485,739, 75 percent of the total, with a required minimum of 25 percent from the local level of $161,913 to total $647,652 of newly available funds.
In total, the money will cover entry-level salaries and benefits for new hires during three years. After the 36-month period ends, the county would have to pay the full costs, but Howell said incremental tax increases in upcoming fiscal year budgets would help to soften the blow.
Howell said that the main goal for this year was to increase the number of officers on duty in each shift, but when the COVID-19 pandemic began they didn’t think it would happen. With the grant money, four new officers can now be added, bringing the total staffing number to 41.
“That will increase our shift numbers from three to four, with my endgame being to get us into ‘zones,’” Howell said, describing having officers in specific areas to cover different parts of the county at a higher level than they have been.
With an additional officer on duty and patrolling at all times, Howell said it would lighten the load of the entire patrol and allow deputies to be in better positions to respond to calls and handle issues that arise.