By Jill Penley
Law enforcement is an integral part of the emergency management system of any locality. Just as fire departments, rescue squads and search and rescue teams must cooperate and coordinate, local law enforcement agencies must come together and pool information, resources and strengths to enforce the law and to prevent and solve crimes. The municipal police chief is usually appointed by and accountable to the city council while the sheriff is elected and is thus more directly accountable to local citizens. Sheriff’s offices have countywide jurisdiction.
While overall crime is arguably lower in rural areas, the rates of drug use and domestic violence are about the same in rural and urban areas. There are more than 3,100 counties in the United States, each with a locally elected sheriff, and more than three-fourths of those counties are nonmetropolitan. Similarly, there are more than fifteen thousand municipal police departments in the United States and just under half of those are in nonmetropolitan counties. While large agencies fit common stereotypes of police, these stereotypes are wrong. Nationwide, 90percent of all police agencies have fewer than fifty sworn officers, and half of all agencies have fewer than ten officers. The typical municipal police department has three officers, and the regular sheriff’s office has eight officers.
The Mountain City Police Department, which is located at 210 South Church Street, handles all police matters within the city limits of Mountain City. “Our law enforcement agency consists of eight Tennessee POST Commission certified officers,” said Denver Church, Mountain City Police Chief.
In addition to traditional law enforcement, sheriff’s offices are usually responsible for running the local jail, providing court security and prisoner transport, and serving civil papers. The Johnson County Sheriff’s Department complex is located at 999 Honeysuckle Street in Mountain City and is staffed by almost 50 employees including administrative personnel, warrant clerks, bailiffs, correctional officers, sheriff’s deputies and investigators.
“Having been in law enforcement for 38 years, I have seen so many changes over the years,” said Johnson County Sheriff Mike Reece. “One thing, though, has remained true, is the working relationship between all departments has always been crucial in many situations.”
Sheriff Reece understands the importance of a good working relationship with the county’s 911 agency, and explains this is where the majority of emergency calls are taken and dispatched. “The dispatch center is usually our first point of contact and our last when clearing from our call,” he said. “I am very grateful for the dispatchers’ dependability and reliability.”
Local sheriff’s deputies take numerous calls where, after an assessment is made, additional emergency personnel such as fire department, EMS, EMA are needed. “On accidents that require air transport,” explained Reece, “my officers have to work closely with the fire departments and EMS to set up landing zones for patients.”
Reece emphasized that numerous times the Sheriff’s office had to work closely with the EMA (Emergency Management Agency) for persons who are lost or missing.
“We have such a large area where residents and non-residents can hike and ride the mountains, trails, and creeks and a lot of these areas are very easy to get turned around in, causing the person or persons to get off the main trails and become lost,” Reece said. “We then have to work with EMA and sometimes fire departments for locating these people. Our EMA Director Jason Blevins and EMA Operations Manager Mike Sumner, who is also a reserve deputy for my department, is also found in our office building on Honeysuckle Street. Reece said that he is thankful as having such departments close by allows the office at times to discuss situations and of course, have an immediate meeting place to set up command posts for a scene.“I am very pleased with the working relationship that my officers and staff have with all other departments,” he said. “Our daily operations depend on it.”