"It's been a learning experience for me. We've had successes along a few bumps," said Underwood of his first term. "Last year I had a couple of bumps," he said in reference to arrests and dismissals of two former deputies who faced criminal charges. Underwood states, "You deal with it. The key is to move on and do the right thing; move past it."
Despite "some bumps along the way," Underwood said the Oregon County Sheriff's Department has a lot of accomplishments to be proud of. In order to save the county money, washers and dryers were purchased to wash inmate clothing, rather than have a contract with a washing service. Underwood, pleased with the purchase, said, "It has more than paid for itself within the first year." Also, to save approximately $15,000, freezers were purchased to allow frozen dinners to be served to inmates, in lieu of contracting with a restaurant. Underwood commented, "Deputy Melissa Cruse has been very instrumental in setting up this program to save money."
One of the most recent positive changes for the Oregon County Sheriff's Department is the grant received to increase deputies' salaries. The statewide salary increased from $21,500 to $28,000. Adding a $1,200 county increase raised deputy salaries to $29,200. County dispatchers and the department secretary also received a $1,200 increase per month. "The grant was signed in 2008 by Governor Blunt but was just now put into effect," Underwood said. The funds for the grant are determined yearly.
According to Underwood, new vehicles were purchased for the department in 2009, and a policy for vehicle usage and forms to track daily mileage and maintenance were instituted. A uniform policy, jail policy and defined dispatcher duties were also established in 2009.
Officer safety has been enhanced with the purchase of six Tasers, less than lethal weapons, equipment for safety and emergencies and six handguns with holsters. Sheriff Underwood attended the Sheriff's Academy after taking office, and completed 760 hours of training. Over the last three years, staff has completed a total of 2500+ hours of training.
Additional updates to the Oregon County Sheriff's Department, since 2009 include new light bars purchased through a grant, a new camera video monitoring system in the jail, lobby, and visiting room, and the replacement of three computers and addition of one in the office.
Underwood was asked, "Where does the revenue generate from?"
"Money goes into the general revenue budget by court documents served, summons, and, when prisoners are incarcerated, the Department of Corrections pays daily to house them. The sales tax in place in the county does not go towards law enforcement," Underwood replied.
When asked about the amount of training officers have had regarding the Tasers, he replied, "It is required to re-certify yearly, after the initial certification. I require any of my staff that uses one will have a Taser used on them in the training, so they know what it feels like." Underwood stated his department has only used the Tasers twice, and they are used with caution.
Also asked was, "What is the number one arrest and booking?"
"Times are rough and we have a lot of people that we deal with warrants out for writing hot checks. Others are DUIs and drugs. Prescription medication is really becoming a problem. I have seen that get worse just since I've been in office," Underwood replied. Regarding arrests in association with meth, Underwood stated, "It's there but it's not on large scales right now. My first year we had four meth lab busts, and they have slowed down or went underground.
Underwood said, "I have learned a lot and I thank God for Chief Deputy Eric King and all our staff at the Oregon County Sheriff's Department. Feel free to call my office any time and talk to me or Eric. If we don't know we'll find out for you."
Sheriff Underwood is seeking re-election for a second term. He is running on the Democratic ticket against Mike Barton of Alton, Mo., in the August 7 Primary. The winner of that election will face Kevin Jotz or David Bailey, who are running in the Republican primary election. Mike Bunting, who has filed as an Independent, will join the primary winners on the ballot for the fall election.