More jail guards needed, grand jury report says

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 1, 2002

[02/01/02]The number of guards at the Warren County Jail should be increased, a Warren County grand jury recommended as part of the report it delivered Thursday to Circuit Judge Frank Vollor.

In addition to hearing evidence in 77 criminal cases from District Attorney Gil Martin’s office, the grand jury also met with Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace, Vicksburg Police Department Chief Tommy Moffett and Deputy Chief Richard O’Bannon, Mayor Laurence Leyens and the Warren County Board of Supervisors.

After the private hearings and a tour of the jail, grand jurors agreed with the sheriff that the number of guards on duty seemed inadequate in case of emergency.

While the jail’s average inmate population has increased from an average of about 40 or 50 at its opening in the mid-1970s to its current level of well over 100, its staffing level for two of its three shifts has remained constant, Pace said. He added that an additional, roving, guard could complement those who now work two of the shifts.

“It’s understaffed for its population,” Pace said.

Also in its two-page report, the grand jury cited improved training at the police department, commending Moffett and O’Bannon, who took their jobs in October and November, respectively, for changes they are making. Grand jurors cited report-writing and evidence-presenting as examples of the training in “basic skills” they said should continue.

“We’ve been emphasizing that,” Moffett said. “We’re taking it one step at a time.”

The plan Moffett has been working on since at least December to dramatically increase the time available for officer training by creating a new, fifth patrol shift is ready, and will be begun next week, he said.

The extra shift is designed to provide the same level of service and protection while raising the amount of training time for each officer to the equivalent of about two months a year, Moffett has said.

In a separate recommendation on the jail, the grand jury proposed that the county provide upgraded computer equipment for its booking and record-keeping systems.

A computer system already in place, purchased with grant money, is used for the photographing and booking of criminals only, and is not integrated with jail records, case files and criminal information, which continue to be kept on paper, Pace said. Upgraded technology would help the sheriff’s department immediately access accurate information as well as transfer it electronically from agency to agency, Pace said.

“To send files via a secure e-mail versus fax or mail would be very desirable,” Pace said.

Vollor thanked the grand jurors for their work on behalf of the county.

At the grand jury’s close, Vollor thanked the jurors and reminded them that, though released from active service, they remain the county’s grand jury until a new one is convened. The next county grand jury is scheduled for May 6.

Also in its report, the grand jury:

Recommended that night vision camera equipment be used by the narcotics division of the police department to enable firm documentation of night drug sales.

Commented on a “lack of preparation” by the state Bureau of Narcotics in the two cases it investigated, both of which received “no bills” from the grand jury.

Recommended that police and sheriff’s deputies continue their joint efforts in enforcing drug laws in Warren County.

Commended detectives from the county’s both law-enforcement agencies for their work in presenting the cases it considered.

Recommended that, once roofing is complete on the jail, ceiling tiles be replaced.