Change is the order of the day at the Pottawatomie County Sheriff’s Office.
It’s been seven months since Mike Booth took the oath of office and pinned on the sheriff’s badge — seven months of improvements, expansions and, yes, frustrations.
In an interview with The Countywide & Sun last week, Booth reflected on the first half-year of his administration with pride. What’s he proudest of? Serving 200 warrants since February was the first thing he mentioned. A perennial problem for the sheriff’s office, warrant service has often slipped to the back burner while deputies fight crime.
Booth attacked that problem by creating a special unit just to serve warrants, manned by two full-time deputies and four reserve deputies. “They get regular training so they don’t get rusty,” he said.
The unit concept has been expanded in the reorganized department. There are also units for patrol, sex offenses and burglary, he said. The burglary unit is the newest, working in another area Booth is proud of.
“We’ve recovered more than $200,000 in stolen property,” he said. “That’s a big deal for me — that’s what I wanted to focus on.”
Stolen trailers, another longtime problem for county law enforcement, got special attention. “We were being hammered with stolen trailers,” the sheriff said. “Now it’s down to almost nothing.”
How did they do it? “Well, we arrested a few guys,” he laughed, “and the reserves had a great idea — have a day for people to put numbers on their trailers and take pictures to put in a database.” Because trailers usually don’t have license tags, it’s difficult for deputies to identify and recover them. The database should help that situation immensely, he believes.
“We’re being very aggressive in those things,” Booth said. “We want to let the bad guys know we’re here.”
Although the deputies and reservists are assigned to units, they all work together toward that end. “Our warrants team came across a suspicious situation involving trailers,” the sheriff recalled, and followed up by checking with other agencies and other counties.
That’s just one example of the emphasis on improved communication that Booth stresses. He holds weekly meetings with all deputies and reservists so that the day shift can tell the night shift what’s going on. And others are invited to those meetings, too — the judges, the district attorney, E911 personnel, and REACT Ambulance, for instance.
An example of what comes out of those meetings is District Attorney Richard Smothermon developing a form to fill out in cases turned over to his office for prosecution. The form is designed to make sure the report includes all the information the DA’s staff needs.
The communication effort has extended out into the community by meeting with local police departments, including tribal departments. “We’ve had lots of assistance from the Shawnee Police Department and the tribes,” Booth said, including donated vehicles. “We have enough vehicles now that the reserves can check them out.”
There are currently 25 operating vehicles, he said, with two more coming soon. Some older units are used for parts.
Booth or someone from his department also attends monthly central region Sheriff’s Association meetings “to make sure we stay in touch … We all have each other’s cell phone numbers.” He emphasized that “Nobody has all the resources they need, but collectively we can do a lot.”
The revitalization of the reserve program has made a lot of difference, Booth said. There are currently about 35 people who volunteer their time as reserve officers. Fourteen are currently in a training academy conducted jointly by the Sheriff’s Office and the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.
Those applying for the reserve force are screened and selected by a review board, the sheriff said. “I am excited that good people are willing to come on board,” Booth said. Those selected are assigned to one of the six areas he has divided the county into, and they are “taking ownership in their areas.”
The down side of the reserve program is that “we don’t have the budget to support them,” Booth said. They must furnish their own equipment, in addition to volunteering their time. The department has begun fundraising efforts to help them out, selling window stickers and planning a softball tournament. An auxiliary organization has also been formed for those who want to help but “don’t want a badge and gun,” he said. There are already several members, who are talking about holding an auction to raise money.
The 12 full-time deputies are also assigned to specific areas, something Booth promised during his campaign for sheriff. “I can’t say enough about these deputies,” the sheriff said. “They’re doing things in their communities that I don’t even know about.” They’ve even begun a ride-along program, where interested citizens can accompany a deputy for a half or full shift to see what his day is like.
Meanwhile, back at the courthouse, it’s pretty chaotic. Walls are being torn down, paint applied and lots of other changes made. “This is the greatest expansion in the history of this office,” Booth said. The former hall/lobby outside the cramped quarters on the basement level of the courthouse has been reclaimed to add office and meeting space. That change has also added another entrance/exit by incorporating one of the three outside doors on that level.
What’s his biggest frustration in operating his office? It’s the flip side of that communication thing — no radios. At least, no county-owned radios. “All of our 800 MHz radios are privately owned or borrowed,” said Booth, who added that he’s applied for a $600,000 in grants for that purpose but the application has been “delayed.”
“We had to call off a manhunt with shots fired because of no communication,” he said. “We’ve got the older radios, but they don’t always get out.”
In all, though, Booth is pretty happy with his first half year. “We’re still not where we want to be,” he said, “but is anyone ever?” He’s pleased with the changes but stresses that “it’s not so much me doing a good job — it’s the team working together … We have the greatest opportunity we’ve ever had in Pottawatomie County for all the agencies to work together. We work long hours, but we’re enjoying our work. We’re becoming more like a family. I’m proud to be a part of this organization.”