“It’s a financial burden on an agency”: Hawkins Co. Sheriff discusses the results of the Summer Wells case in his office

ROGERSVILLE, Tennessee (WJHL) – Five-year-old Summer Wells’ nearly month-long search involving hundreds of rescuers and agencies totaled hours of work for people in the field and, of course, financial implications.

In an interview with News Channel 11 on Friday, Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson said he had yet to total the numbers but expected it to have a financial impact.

“My patrol division – it’s the officers going out and answering calls and stuff – and my school resource officers just those two groups, they’ve racked up over 3,200 hours. That’s not counting the rest of the division, ”Lawson said. “It’s a financial burden for an agency.

During the search, he says he had officers working on the ground at Beech Creek, but also working on the regular workload.

“We always answer the same number of calls, take people to jail, investigate other cases, and it wears you out because it’s hard to give your all 100% when you have brain damage, but we have continued, “Lawson said.” A lot of [my officers] volunteering their time. They’re going to go out and climb in the woods and follow the trails and everything and my detective division is still working all the time.

Lawson said he couldn’t allow officers to volunteer because “they’re doing a service.” He added that the research and investigation also had a mental, physical and emotional impact on his department.

“Many of my officers have young children, grandchildren. And we know what goes through our minds if it had been our child or grandchild and on top of that we spent so much time on a Beech Creek for three weeks, but my office never stopped, ”he said. -he declares. “The time they are on duty, whether they are in Beech Creek or here, is also time with their families. I insist for all my employees: we have God first and family second, this work third, and sometimes it’s hard but then we have to stay focused, and it’s hard. I am just proud of my employees. They are all in everything. They are there to serve.

The costs of the research were also brought up at a budget subcommittee meeting with Hawkins County commissioners.

“Research of this magnitude and magnitude seemed to me to have probably exhausted resources for the relief agencies that are volunteers and for our sheriff’s department. There are literally thousands of working hours there and it’s not over, and what that looks like for our budget, ”said District Four Commissioner Hannah Winegar, who raised the concerns. “While they are also looking for Summer Wells, there is still all the regular police work going on and without a doubt.”

The research also highlighted problems with the county’s communications system.

“It really exposed all of the weaknesses in our first responder practice, because when you have such extensive research and you put so much energy into finding this child, all the shortcomings that we have, they’re going to be exposed,” he said. said Jason Roach, District Five Commissioner. “I am in favor of our local agencies getting new DMR compatible radios to install in their cars and for their handhelds and that is going to cost money. Luckily we have some. grants from the federal government to make up that difference. We hope that some of that money will be directed that way and that the commission will have some time to decide. “

Commissioners Winegar and Roach are also concerned about the depletion of funds and resources from other agencies, including rescue teams and volunteers.

“There’s probably going to have to be changes in how we spend money for our sheriff’s department and how we allocate money to these first responder agencies,” Roach said. “It’s going to cost a lot of money and the point is, if it’s going to cost that amount of money, we just have to figure out how to re-energize the sheriff’s department. It’s not a question of “it’s going to cost that amount of money so we can’t continue the research”. This is not part of the conversation at all. This conversation is more about how we can empower our first responders to do the work we pay them for. “

Hawkins County is entering this fiscal year with a $ 2 million deficit and plans to recover money from the reserve fund. While the money may be moved, Winegar wonders what other costs the county might have if funding were to be cut for rescue agencies.

“We are entering a budget year with a deficit of $ 2 million. Although we have a fund balance to cover this, nobody wants to see a tax increase, but I just think we have to deal with these organizations, because what if they fold? ” she said. “If these relief organizations are going away, we’ve got to have these relief organizations, we’ve got to have that stuff. So if they fall back, what would it look like and how much would it cost the county to pay county employees to do these kinds of services? “

This coming year’s budget for the county will go to the full commission at the end of July.

Commissioners Winegar and Roach say they expect the commission to move money as needed when the sheriff’s department and other agencies present them with research totals.

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