The DeKalb County Sheriff's Department currently has a total of four part-time deputies who serve as court officers for the General Sessions, Juvenile, Chancery, Circuit and Criminal Courts. But under state law, the department will soon be required to have only full time POST certified courtoom officers.
According to a recent opinion by the Tennessee Attorney General, based on a 2008 state law. "Deputy sheriffs are required to be certified as peace officers by the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Commission. Under state law, deputy sheriffs assigned to the courts must also successfully complete forty hours of POST approved basic training in courthouse security and sixteen hours of annual training."
Sheriff Patrick Ray says he has been in consultation with the County Mayor and county commission about the law and funds to make the transition are included in the proposed new budget for the 2010-11 fiscal year. "I was notified by the Tennessee Sheriff's Association back in the early part of June that they had received a state attorney general's opinion on court officers and what the requirements of those court officers would be. They sent me a copy of it We looked at it and they do state in there that the (court) officers are to work a minimum of 40 hours per week in a full time position and be certified by the Tennessee Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) Commission in Nashville. So I went to the county commission and explained to them what the state attorney general's opinion was and I also had the county attorney look at it and give his opinion. He also reaffirmed that they (court officers) were going to have to be certified."
Sheriff Ray says when not in court, these officers can be assigned to other duties including serving papers. He says an idea has also been discussed, but not yet approved to help pay for this additional expense. " I talked with the county commission about offsetting how much it was going to cost in our budget to do that (have four full time certified court officers) and there was some talk that they (county commission) might raise the fees of civil papers and criminal warrants and when these court officers are not in court, they could be serving civil papers and state warrants. These (full time court officers) will have full powers just like a regular deputy. They can make arrests and work calls. We can use them for anything. They're not paid from court funds. They can work different shifts and do whatever we need them to do."
In addition to their certification, Sheriff Ray says these court officers will be required to put in a certain amount of hours toward courtroom security, even after this year. "They'll have to do their forty hours of in-service just like the regular deputies do and then they'll have so many hours of courtroom security that they'll have to do in addition to that forty hours. So they'll have a little more training time than most of our regular deputies do."
"The county commission has already granted approval for me to go ahead and get these four officers trained that we plan to use in the courtrooms. We have three people who are going to the academy and we've hired one person who has already sent himself through the academy. We tried to find people who were already certified so we wouldn't have to pay the expense of sending them through the academy."
"Right now in my budget I've got funds for four part-time court officers. The courts require two armed officers for each judge's courtroom. We've hired people to fill those slots and the county commission has allotted me some money in my budget for this transition period to be able to pay them while sending these other people to get them certified. Once they're certified, then the rest of what's left out of that part-time money will go to these full time salaries."
Sheriff Ray added that this change was not something anybody sought locally but was necessary because of state law. "This was not a decision of mine or the county commission. It's a mandatory law that we have to comply with. They did not give us any options."
Sheriff Ray says all four full time court officers will be used on any day when court is in session. If two courts are in session at the same time, the four officers will be assigned, two per courtroom.