BLUE magazine: What do the people of Sussex County have to say about their Sheriff’s Office in regard to areas that may need improvement and how do you plan to meet their expectations?
Sheriff Michael F. Strada: I believe we meet and even exceed the expectations of the people of Sussex County as I often times receive positive feedback from our citizens, not only in person but by thank you letters and awards. We are very involved in our communities with our school children, civic organizations and our senior population. While addressing the community, I always engage and ask what their needs are or what we could possibly change to better meet their needs.
In terms of intelligence-led policing, where does the Sheriff’s Office currently sit, and what measures are you taking to keep up with technological advances in law enforcement?
We have a state of the art Communications Center along with a new CAD system that enables us to both communicate with law enforcement agencies and all the other emergency services including fire and first aid. We are also the single answering point for any text to 911 calls within the county as well ask having the technology to implement reverse 911 calls.
In addition, all of our marked cars that perform traffic enforcement have onboard computers and cameras. Our officers on the road wear body cameras and have the ability to use e-citations while performing their duties. Each car on the road is equipped with AVL/GPS tracking to assist our Communications Center dispatchers. We utilize Rapid SOS technology as well as newly implemented license plate readers.
Community policing, what does it mean to you and how does the Sheriff’s Office practice it throughout Sussex County?
Community policing means getting out in the community with our officers and engaging with the public. We have 32 senior citizen organizations in our county. We make it a priority to work with county Senior Services and meet with all of these organizations on a regular basis.
We recently just formed a group at our office that is called the Sussex County Sheriff’s Senior Citizens. We meet monthly and talk about concerns that the seniors may have relating to safety in their lives. Some of the presentation topics include emergency preparedness, active shooter-civilian response, fire safety and internet/telephone scams.
The Sussex County Sheriff’s Office was the first law enforcement agency in the state to implement a Senior Wristband Program in 2014. At no cost to the taxpayers, we distribute soft latex wristbands to our senior population with an individual identification number assigned to the senior citizen. Our participating senior citizens provide us with their name, address, contact information as well as doctor information and emergency contacts. Should the senior be unable to communicate, the first responders in the County are able to call our Communications Center to help identify the senior who may be in need of assistance. This in conjunction with our Senior ID program means that seniors are kept safer when they go out into the community.
In addition to our senior community, we have two officers dedicated to community relations work on weekend shifts by attending community days within the municipalities and we do child safety seat events as well as fingerprinting children when requested.
School safety is a major concern and widely debated. What role does the Sheriff’s Office take to ensure Sussex County schools are safe?
Our officers teach LEAD (Law Enforcement Against Drugs) in 10 Sussex County schools. In collaboration with the New Jersey State Police, we also conduct lockdown drills in our county schools that are policed by the New Jersey State Police. Several of our officers have completed training with the New Jersey State Police in responding to an active shooter. In addition, several of our schools have cameras linked to our County Communications Center where we can monitor if an incident occurs.
Statistically the opioid epidemic is increasing, and Sussex County is not excluded from these stats. How will you combat this growing crisis?
We continue to have officers assigned to our county narcotics task force to assist in the opioid crisis that has affected our County. All of our officers on the road as well as within our County Courthouse have the ability to administer Narcan. We work with the Center for Prevention and Counseling by allowing counselors specifically dedicated to opioid abuse to have the ability to counsel inmates that are requesting assistance. Our medical staff at our correctional facility is able to offer a free shot of Vivitrol upon an inmate leaving the facility.
Some Sussex County inmates have recently been shipped out to Morris County. How does this benefit the people of Sussex County and does this move run the risk of laying officers off?
With the implementation of bail reform, this has taken a drastic effect on our inmate population. We have seen a 66% drop in our Average Daily Population since bail reform took place. Our current ADP is around 74 inmates. This is in sharp contrast to six years ago when we had over 200 inmates housed in Sussex County. With the reduction in inmates and our female inmates moving to Morris County, this has enabled us to close two floors at our correctional facility. We have reduced our staff from a high of 82 sworn officers to 63 sworn officers. This reduction in staff was achieved without any layoffs as these officers were just not replaced due to retirements or officers finding other employment. In addition, we have been able to hire several corrections officers as Sheriff’s Officers.
A 2013 Jail Needs Assessment Study was initiated and approved by the Board of Chosen Freeholders. This study revealed that 60 million dollars would be needed to modernize our correctional facility. With a declining inmate population, it does not make financial sense to spend millions of taxpayers’ dollars on a facility that has a declining inmate population due to bail reform. This same study analyzed the cost per night on average for each inmate at $197.10. Our contract with Morris County allows us to house Sussex County inmates at a greatly reduced cost of $105 per night within their state of the art facility. The changes we have made within the correctional facility have enabled us to save 1.9 million dollars alone in 2018.
As far as the future of our correctional facility, this will be a decision that the Board of Chosen Freeholders will have to make.
I will always continue to look at ways to enhance services and reduce costs.
Thank you for sharing your insight with us and we wish you the best of luck in the upcoming Primary.