He addressed the group about the current state of crime in Bradley County, saying that burglaries, larcenies and drug offenses have been affecting Bradley County the most.
Between 2008 and 2011, Ruth continued, burglaries have dropped from 328 to 231 per year. Larcenies during this same time period went from 705 to 573 per year.
“This decrease in the last two years, with the economy as it is, I credit to our increased patrol efforts and the efforts of our criminal investigators,” Ruth said. He also gave credit to crime prevention programs, GED programs, and increased ministries in the jails “trying to stop the revolving door” of criminal activity.
These ministries, he added, have reported seeing “life-changing” results. Involving residents in community crime prevention efforts, such as Neighborhood Watch and handgun permit classes, are other arms of the BCSO’s prevention efforts.
“We are also now training deputies in the latest concept of community policing,” he said.
However, during these same years, drug-related violations have gone from 312 to 421. In 2011, Tennessee was second in the nation, after Missouri, for methamphetamine busts. But just these drug statistics do not tell the full story of what is happening in society, the sheriff asserted.
“Drug abuse and addiction are widespread ... it’s a major problem,” Ruth said. Alcohol and drugs are what fuels most crime. And, “meth is the drug of choice for many people.”
A person can get hooked on it after using only once or twice. Only roughly 8 percent are able to get off of meth, even with medical help.
“It’s a major problem ... but addiction to prescribed narcotics obtained legally or illegally has been on the rise for years,” he added.
When the two are put together, “it is really like a plague on society,” he said.
The only way to slow down the manufacture of meth is to make pseudoephedrine, the precursor for meth, a controlled substance, Ruth said. And then it must be made illegal to cross from one state to another to obtain prescription narcotics from one clinic or doctor’s office to another. Groups traveling together have been known to get thousands of pills in one trip.
“What they don’t take, they sell,” the sheriff said. Tennessee, he added, is second only to Florida in the abuse of prescribed drugs.
“It is a big business that is helping to destroy lives,” the sheriff said.
With Bradley County growing rapidly — currently around 100,000 people and estimated to grow 2 percent every year — the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office “must” be able to have the deputies and correctional officers needed and also be able to retain them, Ruth said.
To that end, “first, a career service plan is ready to be implemented, whenever the County Commission is ready to act on it,” Ruth said. And, “secondly, a merit pay plan is ready to be implemented as well.” Ruth feels these changes will help retain current deputies and officers and keep the department from having its current high turnover rate.
Around 50 trained and experienced deputies, and about 80 correction officers, have been lost in the last five years, he said.
“Our problem at the Sheriff’s Office has been a general lack of funding for many years,” Ruth stressed. “If this continues, we will not be able to hire and keep enough good employees to keep up with the growth ... we simply cannot stand still as our county continues to grow. Not only do corporations see Bradley County as a great place to do business, but a certain portion of the criminal element sees our county as fertile ground for their criminal activities as well.”
Ruth also pointed out that Bradley County does have gang members. At times, 20 to 30 have been seen in the area, he said. The county does see a spillover from places like Chattanooga and South Pittsburg, he noted. But currently, it’s not much of a problem yet — not like in Chattanooga — and Ruth hopes to keep it that way.
“I do not understand some folks’ way of thinking when it comes to properly funding public safety,” he continued. “They say we are facing a crisis in education because of growth and other needs. Yet, they turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the crisis building in public safety caused by the same growth.”
In a separate note, the sheriff also reminded the Sunrise Rotarians about the Bradley County Sheriff’s unused or expired medication safe disposal program — called the Drug Take-Back — to be held this week between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, and also between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday, at the Criminal Investigations Division at 2290 Blythe Ave. S.E. Last year, about 180 pounds of drugs were turned in by area residents. This program is sponsored by the BCSO, the GRAAB Coalition and the DEA.
In other business:
— Bob Naber was inducted as the latest Sunrise Rotary member Thursday.