Sheriff sets new prioritization plan for deputy dispatches

The Columbia County Sheriff's Office has changed how it prioritizes calls received from 9-1-1, deciding to forgo immediate deputy response to most incoming dispatches in favor of placing more emphasis on follow-up investigations.

This policy change comes as Sheriff Jeff Dickerson is attempting to more efficiently use deputy and staff time in light of a constricting budget. Last week, Dickerson said his office no longer has time to continue sending out its weekly crime report, which appears regularly on The Spotlight's crime page.

The sheriff spoke about the focus shift Monday as he perused about 30 calls made in September to 9-1-1 that have gone unanswered by his office. His goal is to maintain a list of those calls, which will eventually be addressed by a supervisor such as himself.

'It's not going to be right away,' Dickerson said about the follow-up responses.

Serious crimes in progress and other emergencies will still get an instant response from deputies, he said.

Dickerson anticipates some residents will be frustrated with the change. If someone calls in a report of a stolen car stereo, for instance, he or she is unlikely to get a visit from a deputy.

'We are trying to do the best we can with what we have,' Dickerson said. 'We haven't given up.'

How his office prioritizes emergency calls will depend on call volume and severity.

Before the procedural change, on-duty deputies would be available to respond to whatever calls came from dispatch, essentially jumping from case to case, Dickerson said. Some deputies are sitting on dozens of reports that still need to be completed.

Now, officers will focus on having more detailed investigations of serious crimes, 'So we can actually start solving crimes,' Dickerson said.

Because of a growing workload, investigations from his office have been lacking, he said.

'We weren't investigating things properly,' Dickerson said.

Deputy David Peabody is now a Sheriff's Office detective, recently completing training on crime scene investigations and interviewing.

'This isn't going to be easy for our guys,' Dickerson said about deputies' desire to answer all calls. 'It's a very difficult time for us right now.'

Non-emergency number

The Columbia County Sheriff's Office has created a direct non-emergency number, 503-366-4698, which residents can call to report a crime or incident without having to go through 9-1-1. Emergencies should continue to be called into dispatchers at 9-1-1.

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