The Panola County Commissioners Court voted Tuesday to create six additional Patrol Deputy positions with the Panola County Sheriff’s Department, creating two-man units for overnight shifts.
Both commissioners and county officials hailed the decision as one that will improve the safety of Panola County’s deputies while they are on the job. The decision comes a little more than a month after Deputy Chris Dickerson was shot and killed while conducting a traffic stop alone in Gary.
The patrol deputy positions are specifically for the night shift and will cost $78,810.38 per deputy for the rest of the year, as well as an additional $4,000 per new deputy for vests, mace, etc.
Pct. 1 Commissioner Ronnie LaGrone said that people in the community have sent in letters urging them to add to the force.
“I think the people have finally realized the danger we put these guys in every night,” LaGrone said. “It goes back many many many years when we’ve been lucky, so lucky this hasn’t happened before because from here today back to my time, I was the only one out there until daylight some mornings — wasn’t another deputy this whole county. It was a miracle we didn’t lose one back then. And as well equipped and trained as these are, you see what happened to this one, I think that it’s our duty to take care of their safety and look after the people in this county.”
Sheriff Lake thanked commissioners for considering the measure.
“We have 12 patrol men, which is more than we’ve ever had, and have three on shift, and it’s because of the court that’s allowed us to have these additional officers over the past several years,” Lake said.
Lake said a rise in mental health-related issues that officers deal with means they’re taking people to the hospital sometimes once or twice a day when it used to be once or twice a quarter. That affects staffing, he said.
“As it is with single-man units, especially on the night — which is what we’re addressing here is the night shift — if I have deputies that are having to sit at the hospital with a mental health commitment, there are times that I am leaving one deputy by himself in the car in the county at night, and it just doesn’t cut it,” Lake said. “All of you know that; I’m preaching to the choir.”
The additional deputies will allow there to be three two-man units per night shift, Lake said.
“There’s going to be times that one of those guys is off and they got a single-man unit, so what our plan is, in the perfect world, is that that single-man unit will serve as a back-up unit only for that night,” Lake said. “He will respond at the office to take calls that come into the lobby, and he will serve as a back-up to the other two-man units responding to the call, or if one of them’s at hospital sitting with an inmate or with a mental health commitment or something like that, then our intention is for that single-man unit to still not be the primary unit making the traffic stops or responding to first man on the call. Doesn’t mean it’s not always goinging happen that way, but that’s the plan.”