Cassidy sees improvements in year one as Sullivan sheriff

Rain Smith • Sep 29, 2019 at 12:00 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — With a year in office under his belt, Sullivan County Sheriff Jeff Cassidy believes he has fulfilled campaign promises to fight the drug epidemic, serve backlogged court papers and improve school safety.

"None of this could be done without the passionate employees I've got," Cassidy told the Times News. "This wasn't done because I'm sheriff. You're only as good a sheriff as the people you have around you."

Combating Drugs

One of Cassidy's first acts as sheriff was to double the number of Vice officers from thee to six. He believes that extra personnel has made for a more organized unit, able to be proactive in deterring the flow of drugs and also diligent in following up on tips.

Of the jail's more than 1,000 inmates, Cassidy estimates 85 percent are tied to narcotics; if not the active sale or use of drugs, then theft or other criminal actively to fuel the habit or addiction. 

During the last 12 months, the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office has seized nearly 6 pounds of meth, compared to just over 1 pound the previous year. From September 2017 to September 2018, 5 grams of heroin were confiscated by the SCSO. Over the past year, more than 100 grams have been seized.

Totals have also significantly jumped for both cocaine (1.3 grams to 441 grams) and marijuana (22 ounces to 220 ounces.) Meanwhile, the amount of pills seized skyrocketed to 1,408 in Cassidy's first year in office. He says that in the previous 12 months, the SCSO confiscated 101.5 pills. 

Police estimate the street value of all the drugs at $251,278. The year before, approximately $97,000 worth was taken off the streets.

"I know that's not helping my jail overcrowding,” said Cassidy. "But we've got to enforce the law. We're not going to let these people just walk the streets. A lot of people during the campaign trail told me these drugs are rampant, these drugs are killing our society."

School Safety

Cassidy successfully lobbied the Sullivan County Commission and Board of Education for additional school resource officers. Fourteen new positions were funded, placing an officer at every school in the county

In addition to their school training, each officer is also trained in active shooter response and SWAT. There are also certified instructors for LEAD (Law Enforcement Against Drugs). The program is in place at all the county's elementary schools, focusing on protecting children from drugs and bullying.

Whittling Down the Warrants

A year ago, there were approximately 18,000 unserved warrants at the sheriff's office. While campaigning, Cassidy said he would consult with administrators to make the serving process more streamlined and get to the root of “what we’re doing wrong.”

Since then, more than 7,000 warrants had been cleared and less than 11,000 remain. The SCSO reports that over the last year there were more than 14,000 attempts to clear warrants. Many of those were this past summer by school resource officer's assisting the SCSO's process division.

"We've taken a proactive approach," Cassidy says. "Any time somebody had a chance, they went downstairs, went through all the warrants. Some were recalled, some were bad addresses, we found some people incarcerated in California. Some were duplicated, they were already incarcerated or they were deceased."

Jail Improvements

Last October, the Sullivan County jail became the first in Tennessee to utilize thumbprint-reading, biometric scanners. The machines are used in the booking process to ensure the correct inmate is coming in or being released.

With as many as 200 people moving through booking each week, limiting the smuggling of narcotics and other contraband is a priority for corrections officers. The battle will soon be much easier and thorough, according to Cassidy, as a body scanner will be installed at the facility.

The jail also now has a new rehabilitative service — aimed to assist inmates in finding jobs after release — and added 10 employees through funding from the county.

Concerning all of his campaign platforms, progress in obtaining them, and goals yet to be reached, Cassidy has a motto he cites as motivation: "A promise without execution is a pipe dream."

"These officers and all these people have been tremendous," said Cassidy. "It's remarkable to look at all we've accomplished in one year."