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George Underwood ... The man on top

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sheriff George Underwood has about 27 years of experience in law enforcement. In Florida, he was a corrections officer and later on assistant warden of operations at the Florida Department of Corrections. He said he ran for sheriff of Oregon County to make a difference in the county he was raised in. Photo by Emily McIntosh
A sheriff's duties seem to never be done. Organizing deputies and dispatchers, getting together training classes, answering calls, leading investigations and, yes, helping a fellow neighbor in need, are all things Oregon County Sheriff George Underwood and his team do on a daily, and sometimes nightly basis, and then some.

"It's been pretty busy," Underwood said about his day.

Underwood assumed his duties as sheriff at the first of this year. "I basically ran for the office of sheriff to try to make a difference," Underwood said. "I wanted to see the county use county vehicles instead of personal vehicles for a cost saving effect for the county. I'm going to work hard in this office to make an impact on the manufacturing and distribution of methamphetamines in the county, prescription drug abuse and any other illegal drugs. I want to attempt to eradicate it, and in order to do this it's going to take working hand-in-hand with all the other surrounding county agencies, Southern Drug Task Force, Highway Patrol, Marijuana Eradication Team and local police departments." He said networking together to share information will help in locating individuals who make, distribute and abuse illicit drugs.

Underwood said he was born and raised in Oregon County.

Right after high school, he joined the Army and was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division. He stayed in the Army from 1975 to 1978.

He then became a corrections officer at the Florida Department of Corrections, and 27 years later he retired as assistant warden of operations.

After retirement, he came back to his home in Oregon County. "I just love it here. This is home," Underwood said. "It's a wonderful place to live. There's a lot of wonderful people, and there's some of the most beautiful country in the world."

Underwood said he tried retirement for a few years and began to miss his job. "After retiring and coming back here a couple of years, I was ready to go back to work. I missed working," Underwood said. "I love what I'm doing. My theory is this; you're either part of the problem or you're part of the solution. You just can't sit and ride the fence. If I've got issues about something, I'm going to try to do something about it."

Though Underwood's department is small, the staff is dedicated to their work. "I have four full-time deputies, one bailiff/jailer, one secretary and four dispatchers," Underwood said. This past month he has sworn in three additional reserve deputies, as well.

Underwood's crew patrols and aides local, state and federal law enforcement agencies whenever possible. Underwood said his department stays busy patrolling the entire area of Oregon County. "In our jurisdiction of Oregon County, we patrol 792 square miles, 105,000 acres of that is the Mark Twain National Forrest which is more national forest than any other county in Missouri," Underwood said.

Because of the amount of area the sheriff's department covers and small staff, those working at the sheriff's department can sometimes put in some long hours. "They usually put in extra hours per week," Underwood said. "They just about have to. There's so few of us."

Underwood said sometimes a person can put in as much as 48 hours per week, but they are always happy to help when they are needed. "Everybody's good to throw in and help," Underwood said. "They're a great group of people I have to work up here in the sheriff's department. All are very knowledgeable and just really good at what they do. I can't express enough my appreciation of the staff here at the sheriff's office and the jobs that they do. They're just a great bunch."

Among some other duties the sheriff's department performs is assisting families with children. "We work hand-in-hand with children and families to assist abused and neglected children," Underwood said.

The sheriff's department also assists Haz-Mat, highway patrol, fire departments, U.S. Forestry and any other departments that are in need of their help.

The sheriff also said he has some immediate and long term goals for his department.

"We're in the process of purchasing new uniforms for staff," Underwood said is his immediate goal. Instead of the old black polo shirts and khaki pants, Underwood said, he is planning on the shirts to be khaki and the pants to be a military green.

"One of my long-range goals is to build or purchase a new jail," Underwood said. He said a possibility is building a new structure to house both the jail and the sheriff's department for more office and jail space.

"The reason for this is we're finding ourselves constantly in an overcrowded position," Underwood said. "Then, we end up having some inmates at Thayer, which costs $40 per day."

"We're kind of cramped on office space and room to operate, (too)," Underwood said.

"Another goal is to get all the staff as much training as possible to enhance their knowledge in different fields," Underwood said. "So far, we've sent five staff to professional job training since the first of the year. We're going to continue to train as much as possible to make sure the staff gets the best training they can possibly get."

Underwood said without the county commissioners support of the sheriff's department he wouldn't have been able to accomplish some of the things he has done since he's become sheriff. "Their back-up is much appreciated," Underwood said.

So far for 2009, Underwood said the sheriff's department has written 29 tickets while doing river patrol on the Eleven Point River. He said the majority of those tickets were for possession of a controlled substance, normally marijuana. The sheriff's department also made about 75 arrests and issued 592 subpoenas.

Besides the every day things one would expect a sheriff's department to perform, there are some times when a police officer has to go above and beyond the call of duty. Underwood said some people call the sheriff's department because they don't know who else to call during certain emergencies. "We respond to calls of all kinds of nature," Underwood said. "The other morning, I got a call at 2 o'clock, the lady was hysterical, she had a coon in her house. Bless her heart, I went down there and she was scared to death." Fortunately, the sheriff said he was able to herd the racoon out of the woman's house.

"That's part of (the job), too," Underwood said. "It doesn't matter what time of day or night. When somebody calls, somebody is going to be there. We've got to help them with whatever (problem) they've got."

Underwood said he is proud of the way the staff of his department handles all different types of situations and their caring concern for the residents of Oregon County. "I'm just proud to be a part of it," Underwood said.

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-- Posted by The Badge collector on Mon, Jul 20, 2009, at 4:33 PM

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