Polk County split sheriff's biggest issue

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Posted 5/19/19

Polk County Sheriff Steve Ross is a career law enforcement officer, but quickly admits he is in a very unique situation in his small, poor, rural county.The land mass in Polk County is actually not …

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Polk County split sheriff's biggest issue

See Related Story


Polk County Sheriff Steve Ross is a career law enforcement officer, but quickly admits he is in a very unique situation in his small, poor, rural county.

The land mass in Polk County is actually not that small, but it is a "split" county. Approximately one-third of Polk County is under the management of the National Park Service. 

With the Park Service's limited personnel, law enforcement issues on federal land usually fall on the shoulders of Ross' Polk County staff, with assistance from other  agencies in surrounding counties.

"They're trying to do a good job, but they're just so limited," Ross pointed out. There is only enforcement officer for the federal territory.

Federal land divides the Southeast section of Polk County, around Copperhill, Copper Basin, and Ducktown, from the western section surrounding Benton. The county line on the West borders Bradley County.

"My greatest difficulty, by far, is that the county is split in two," said Ross in a recent interview at the Polk County Justice Center.

Ross has 26 deputies, which includes criminal detectives and drug detectives. There are also six School Resource Officers, one for each of the county's six schools.

Patrol duties on both side of Polk County, and ongoing investigation of incidents and crimincal behavoir are time-consuming.

You might think major crimes would be few and far between, but due to it's isolated location, Polk County's Sheriff's Office is often faced with serious and tragic incidents.

"We've had four bodies dumped here in the past two years, as well as two others who were not supposed to survive," Ross said.  

Despite these tragic incidents, the Polk County sheriff is pleased with his department's growth and success "We've done some really good things," he said.

In his five years in office, he has increased his deputy force from 16 to 26, due to need.

"We found some extra space in the justice center, which has allowed us to increase our inmate population," he said.

"The Commission was good to me, and provided funds to increase my staff," Ross said, but then admitted it's pretty much a wash, with the jail's increased population funding the increased deputy force.

Ross said the department has been able to get by, despite continued economic challenges for the county, with limited business and industry which greatly hampers employment opportunities.

He said themoderate progress is due to teamwork and cooperation among all departments, and elected officials... regardless of political party.

"In Polk County, the Ds and Rs work well together," he said of Democrats and Republicans. 

The scope of that statement can probably be widened somewhat, when you consider the fact several independents were voted to office in Polk County's most recent election. 

The start of this gradual turn away from a very strong Democratic county might be traced back five years, when Ross, a Republican, was a winner in a mild surprise.

Ross is a Polk County native, and 1986 graduate of Polk County High School. Following completion of his secondary education, he spent three years in the U.S. Marines.

He then returned home and joined the Polk County Sheriff's Office for a short while, before coming to the Cleveland Police Department for a 24-year tour of duty.

That ended when he was first elected Polk County Sheriff five yeasr ago.

Ross and his wife, Connie (Ghorley), have two sons, with the youngest being a Polk County deputy.

Although he realizes the challenges will continue for the forseeable future, the Polk County sheriff anticipates a lengthy stay in office. I love my job, and I want to stay as long as the people will let me," Ross said in conclusion.

The mission statement of his office says, "It shall be the mission of the Polk County Sheriff's Office to consistently meet the public safety needs of all the people we serve with integrity, respect and fairness. We shall strive to meet or exceed the expectations of those we serve while enforcing the laws of the State of Tennessee."

This commitment includes the Polk County Commission's recent decision to become a gun sanctuary county (see related article). 


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