Board voices concerns over sheriff’s budget
by Larry S. Chowning
On September 1, an undercover police officer with the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office asked the county board of supervisors not to publish information about unmarked police cars in the board’s monthly meeting minutes.
According to the police officer, listing the unmarked police cars in the minutes might give criminals the ability to identify undercover policemen.
The request, however, received a cold reception from the board.
“All we report in our minutes is the model of the car,” board chairman Robert Crump told the police officer. “We don’t give the color or whether it’s a Ford or GMC, so the information that has been given out today has been given by you—not us.
“If you have a problem in the future, call the county office or call me,” Crump told the police officer. “All you are doing is blowing your cover for no good reason.”
Supervisor Fred Crittenden added, “I think someone made a poor choice in time by coming to a public meeting and blowing his cover. It’s not real often someone comes before this board and doesn’t give his name. I don’t know who you are from Adam. I think [by blowing your cover] what you are doing here is creating problems—not solving problems.”
When the matter of budgetary spending came up, Crump voiced concerns with the sheriff’s office. “We have a sheriff in this county who has exceeded his budget for the last three years, and this year’s budget is tighter than any of the last three years.
“Other counties are controlling their public safety budget,” continued Crump. “We have an office in this county that absolutely, positively can not control spending. We have to get a handle on it any way we can.”
In a related matter, the undercover police officer asked the board if the sheriff’s office could get universal gas credit cards that could be used anywhere.
“I can’t speak for the rest of the board, but I know you have credit cards with Shell and Exxon, but as far as I’m concerned it should only be Shell and Exxon,” said Crump.
In another related matter, the police officer noted that a police vehicle was in an accident recently and received $3,500 worth of damage. The insurance company paid the county $3,250 on the claim. Sheriff Guy Abbott, however, took parts off old police vehicles and did the painting himself— for a total cost of $700. This saved the county $2,550, the police officer told supervisors.
Crump said he previously told Sheriff Abbott that any car repair work he undertook needed to be documented with a balance sheet listing how many hours he spent on the job and what parts were used. “That’s what I would expect any business person to do. Just to say, ‘I saved $2,550’ without documentation is no way to do business.”
The police officer noted Middlesex has the second highest inmate population in the Middle Peninsula Regional Security Center in Saluda among the five participating counties. Only Essex has a higher inmate population, he said.
“You have a lot of good deputies out there trying to do their job,” the police officer told the board. “We are seeing an increase in crime and these things are going to continue with this economy.”
The police officer encouraged supervisors not to cut the sheriff’s budget in the future.
“Your budget was cut 5 percent [this year] like every other department,” responded Crump. “We are not going to cut your budget any more this fiscal year, but we expect you to stay within that budget.”
Sheriff Abbott was not present at the September 1 supervisors’ meeting. On Tuesday of this week, Abbott defended his practice of fixing police cars himself. “There is no reason to get rid of a damaged or old police car when I can use parts off them to repair our newer cars,” said Abbott. “This saves county taxpayers thousands of dollars. There are no labor costs when I fix a vehicle.”
In reference to undercover police cars being identified in the supervisors’ minutes, Abbott said, “The more we don’t publicize the type of undercover vehicles we are using, the better chance our deputies have of catching criminals.”
In reference to the undercover police officer having “blown his cover” by appearing before the board of supervisors, Abbott said, “This undercover officer appears in court all the time. His identity is already known by many. We just want to give him different vehicles to use to keep him undercover as much as possible.”