News Flash

2015 City News Releases

Posted on: April 14, 2015

City, County leaders update Council and Commission on urgent law enforcement issues

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE City Manager Greg Burris and Greene County Administrator Chris Coulter updated City Council and the Greene County Commission about urgent law enforcement and criminal justice system issues at a noon meeting today at the Public Safety Center, 330 W. Scott. The update follows a sobering Dec. 9, 2014 meeting, where the two leaders walked the elected officials through a Joint City-County Planning Task Force Report that detailed challenges facing both governmental entities. The report grouped issues into the following “big three” categories: law enforcement and the criminal justice system; unfunded state and federal mandates, and the City and County’s financial stability. Three “urgent issues” emerged from those categories that members suggest need immediate attention. Those include:  insufficient jail space and criminal justice system capacity, lack of stormwater funding for mandated programs and improvements (which was discussed in February) and the County’s unsustainable financial situation. The County's unsustainable financial situation will be discussed in an upcoming meeting. Officials emphasized that law enforcement and the criminal justice system is, in fact, a system, and it is experiencing a systemic problem in Springfield. The issues identified as Near-term Issues (issues requiring attention within 18 months) by the task force include:

• Jail overcrowding, which is now at a critical point, is a symptom of larger, system-wide issues.

• State underfunding of jail operations.

• Law Enforcement Sales Tax (LEST I, passed in 1997) expenses exceed revenues.

• Mental health impact on crime and jail operations. The overcrowding situation in the jail is at critical point, according to Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott. It is not noticed outside of the circles of those who operate and manage the jail, but a closer look shows that the consequences of an overcrowded jail could affect our community’s safety. Most people don’t realize the growing list of crimes, including burglaries, thefts, assaults and lower-level sex offenses, for which offenders are booked and released because there is no jail space. The jail was built to house 500 inmates. Up until 2010, the number of inmates remained within that number for the most part. Beginning in 2011, the population rose sharply to an average between 550 and 600 inmates. In 2013, the jail’s population rose sharply again, reaching 700 inmates. It continued to rise in 2014: total jail bookings ranged between 18,000 and 23,000 per year. Currently, the jail’s average daily population is 674 inmates. Mental and physical health of the inmates at the Greene County Jail continues to play a significant role in Springfield-Greene County’s law enforcement system. The financial consequences of shifting the burden of medical treatment to jails are significant. The average daily cost of a general inmate at the jail is about $45 per day. The average daily cost for an inmate with a serious illness is up to $550 per day. Diversion programs such as the Justice Mental Health Program are currently being employed, but yet the jail is still experiencing capacity issues. To cope with the capacity issues, the County has been housing inmates in other jails in southwest Missouri. Even with inmates housed in other counties, the number of inmates remaining in the jail remains between 600 and 640. In the summer of 2014 the County remodeled part of the jail and increased the capacity to 592 inmates, but that only served as a stopgap measure. The task force indicated that a more permanent solution is needed. The issues identified as Mid-term Issues (issues requiring attention within 18 months) by the task force include:

• Expansion of the Judicial Courts Building and Juvenile Detention Center ($15 million).

• Municipal Court facilities ($14.7 million) and Sheriff’s administrative offices ($5 million).

• Additional prosecutors and public defenders will be needed to address systemic issues in the law enforcement and criminal justice system.

• Expansion of the jail (estimated to cost $25 million and would increase operating costs by $10 million).

• Radio system infrastructure replacements ($1.2 million, County and $700,000 City).

• Police property room ($4 million).

• Police vehicles and equipment ($3.7 million). Police vehicle needs beyond the $3.7 million are $1.5 million annually.

• Police/Fire driving track and facilities ($2.2 million).

• Police firing range ($2.1 million). The total capital need for improvements by the County is $46.2 million, all of which is unfunded. The total capital needs for improvements by the City is $27.6 million, all of which is unfunded. Building a larger jail alone does not solve the problem. The jail is a symptom of a larger, more systemic problem within the criminal justice system. The jail is not a prison. The jail primarily houses people (defendants) who have been accused of a crime, but have not yet been sentenced. The only way to move defendants out of the jail is to resolve their cases via the criminal justice system. That requires judges, prosecutors, and public defenders – and a place to house them. The County courthouse is currently full to capacity. Staffing needs include prosecutors, public defenders (funded by the state), corrections officers, judges, juvenile officers and police officers and Sheriff’s deputies. But even if more judges and prosecutors were hired, there is no facility for them to work. Further, if the City of Springfield adds more police officers or Greene County adds more deputies, the rest of the system cannot accommodate the additional inmates that could result. Springfield Police staffing, in particular, is a challenge. Springfield pays its academy participants while they are being trained. This training takes nine months – six months in the academy, plus three months of field training. Thus, these academy participants are counted as sworn police officers in the City’s staffing numbers while they are being trained, since they are being paid. Given the constant “churn” of new officers being trained via the academy while more-experienced eight officers retire or resign, there is a consistent staffing level that is less than the Council-approved authorized police staffing. At status quo, this will not change. What happens if we do nothing about this?

The task force’s report suggests that other counties facing the same issue may provide insight into what the consequences of inaction may be. Overcrowding conditions across the country have resulted in thousands of lawsuits, including a notable case in Jackson County, Mo. Complaints filed in federal court could also lead to the court imposing requirements for managing jail population safely, regardless of the cost to the community. Options to address Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice System issues:

• Create funding stream by cutting or eliminating other services.

• Sales tax to raise funds needed for personnel and facilities. Available options include countywide law enforcement sales tax or countywide general revenue sales tax. New City sales taxes are not an option until the Police-Fire Pension Fund sales tax sunsets.

• Property tax.

• Court-ordered reimbursement of jail costs by prisoners.

• Continue to request that the State of Missouri honor statutory commitment to reimburse inmate housing costs. (Low likelihood)

• Continue to request that both the state and federal governments refrain from mandates which place additional public safety costs on cities and counties. (Low likelihood)

City and County officials and staff will continue to meet to discuss ways to best address the challenges of the community’s criminal justice system.

“We did not get here overnight, so we will not solve these problems overnight,” says City Manager Greg Burris. # # # For more information, contact Cora Scott, Director of Public Information & Civic Engagement, at 417-380-3352.View the PowerPoint presentation.

View the Task Force's report.
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