More than a dozen area citizens gathered at Union High School last week for a Town Hall meeting called by Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson. The sheriff conducts regularly scheduled meetings in communities throughout the county as part of his ongoing commitment to keeping the operations of county law enforcement transparent and accountable to his constituents.
In a session that lasted more than two and a half hours, Thompson spoke on a number of issues that regularly challenge the Sheriff’s Department’s effort to maintain public safety.
On the topic of budgets, Thompson acknowledged that holding the line on budget increases during his tenure as sheriff continues to be a challenge. With a renewed emphasis on collecting the room and board fees charged to prisoners of the Black Hawk County Jail, revenues have steadily increased from just over $270,000 in 2008, Thompson’s first year in office, to around $400,000 each year since 2011. While there are restrictions how that money can be spent, the increase in revenue, coupled with a new food service vendor contract at the Black Hawk County Jail, will result in a significant savings.
In response to questions about drugs, Thompson’s message was clear:
“We are not winning the war on drugs. We’re supressing, applying pressure,” he said, reiterating his belief that 80% of the crimes committed in Black Hawk County are drug-related. Challenges law enforcement face in the fight against drugs include the amount of resources and time needed to gather sufficient evidence before search warrants or charges can be filed.
Locally, Thompson said reports of heroin, a serious problem in larger cities throughout the nation, are starting to creep into the county. Pharmaceuticals continue to be a major challenge in the county because they are the hardest to detect and deter.
Distracted driving was another topic of interest to the citizens in attendance. While the current law is a step in right direction, Thompson admitted its restrictions on when officers can stop motorists make the legislation weak from an enforcement perspective.
The sheriff closed with words of encouragement for citizens working to keep their neighborhoods safe. Vigilant neighbors who are actively engaged and willing to report suspicious activities are people law enforcement officials rely on for help not only in solving crimes, but deterring them as well.
“The more active engagement from the public we have, the better communication and more information citizens can provide helps make sure I’m doing the job you want me to do,” he said.