(Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part series featuring a recent one-on-one interview with Bradley County Sheriff-Elect Steve Lawson. Today's installment focuses on Lawson's plan and vision for the sheriff's office.)
(Editor’s Note: This two-part series featuring a recent one-on-one interview with Bradley County Sheriff-Elect Steve Lawson concludes today with a look at the lawman's plan and vision for the sheriff's office.)
As Bradley County Sheriff-Elect Steve Lawson has been preparing to take office in September, he is keeping an eye on the county’s budgeting process.
Lawson said he wants to work with the Bradley County Commission and develop a four-year plan to cover everything from budget needs to training plans. He noted the 2018-19 fiscal year will be underway when he is sworn into office.
“I’ll look at what we’ve got,” and see where the department should be going in the next four years, he said.
Lawson hopes to meet with county commissioners and the commission’s Finance and Law Enforcement committees soon after taking office.
Aside from the budget, Lawson said “I see some things that are going to be very challenging.” Among them is the number of correctional officers, which he anticipates will improve as those jobs become more attractive
When the jail was built there were 92 correctional officers and now there are 60, Lawson said.
“We’ve absolutely got to get better,” he said. “You can’t forget about your correctional officers.”
Lawson said having a full staff of correctional officers also complements the faith-based ministries he plans to allow to continue at the jail.
He also plans to implement his school security plan to address safety issues at all grades and locations within the county. It encompasses a plan to push for legislation to create a “School Threat Multi-Disciplinary Review Team” in every school system.
Other measures include plans to establish a 24-hour hotline for reporting purposes, initiate monitoring of social media by trained officers, and provide special training from the Tennessee Office of Homeland Security and other legitimate sources regarding school violence, social media usage, and threat profiles. He also plans to partner with the Educational Safety Director to provide annual security and threat assessments for each school.
In regard to staffing, Lawson acknowledged that current Bradley County Sheriff’s Office employees are uncertain of what the future holds and are concerned about their jobs.
He also emphasized the need to follow policy when it comes to hiring personnel. “If I hire you … or you promote from within, let’s go with what policy calls for,” he said.
Lawson said he believes in posting available jobs so all personnel have the opportunity to apply.
He plans to follow the rules as laid out in Chapter 70 of Bradley County’s Private Acts of 1995, known as the Bradley County Sheriff’s Department Employment Protection Plan. According to the EPP, “all Bradley County sheriff's department personnel who have been employed by the department for a continuous, uninterrupted period of time of at least two years full-time employment, and who during their tenure with the sheriff's department have maintained a satisfactory work history, shall be protected from arbitrary firing or failure to re-hire.”
The private act also outlines employees who are not eligible for protection under the EPP; that the individual rank of protected employees is not protected; job assignments; employee benefits and other issues.
A copy of the EPP is available at privateacts.ctas.tennessee.edu; select Bradley County and navigate to Chapter X – Law Enforcement, Sheriff, Employment Plan.
Lawson said he has to make people understand he may be moving personnel in order to better cover the needs of the jail and the overall department. He plans to give praise where it’s due and “I’ll always tell you the truth. Is that fair?”
Lawson acknowledged that many BCSO employees are unsure what to expect from a new sheriff, but he hopes to calm a few nerves.
“I don’t want to come in and cost everybody everything,” Lawson said. “I’ll just have to wait and see what the landscape is when I get there.”
He added he will discuss this and other issues with his transition team and seek input from team members.
In addition, the safety of BCSO’s personnel is a top priority for Lawson. In the patrol division he sees equipment needs and said “I’m going after that first.” Among them is use of patrol vehicle dashboard cameras and officer body cameras, which Lawson plans to pursue.
“I think it protects the officer and the (public),” he said.
Also, there are areas of training he wants to pursue for BCSO personnel because “I want them to be the best prepared for any situation,” he said.
In all, Lawson said he hopes to offer a better work environment “all the way around” where employees feel safe and valued.
“I think we’re going to get good people,” he said, adding there are also areas to improve in order to keep employees. “If I see a need for something I’ll never hesitate to ask.”
Lawson said a goal for his tenure as sheriff “is for it to be better when I leave than when I found it.” To accomplish that, he is looking for ways to improve and said he plans to hold his command staff to following the budget and remind his employees that the BCSO operates with taxpayer dollars. Lawson added that generally every time he has been before the Bradley County Commission was for a reasonable request. For example, he garnered approval for restricted time pay for deputies; this was pay during the time the deputies were restricted to home immediately before their duty shifts
He also brought a request for per diem pay before the commission – $38 per day for employees attending training schools where meals are not provided. Lawson said it was approved and the practice started with the sheriff’s office and eventually became the practice countywide.
“If it’s the right thing to do, go ask for it,” he said of seeking funding.
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