After losing election Tuesday, Knox sheriff plans to answer fewer 911 calls

bestep@herald-leader.comMay 22, 2014 

In the wake of Knox County Sheriff John Pickard's loss in the primary election this week, his department plans to take a back seat to state police in answering some 911 calls.

Pickard's chief deputy, Derek Eubanks, said he is aware some people will read the move as sour grapes over the election, but insisted that's not true.

The reason for the switch is that Pickard and his officers must focus on the work involved in winding down the office over the next few months, Eubanks said.

"It's hard to close cases when you keep opening cases," Eubanks said Thursday.

Pickard lost his bid for a fourth term to Mike Smith, who retired after 24 years with the Kentucky State Police. The vote was 3,914 for Smith to 2,789 for Pickard, according to the county clerk's office.

Under the new arrangement, state police officers will handle more of the cases in Knox County that can be time-consuming because they require investigation, such as burglaries and vehicle accidents in which people are injured, Eubanks said.

However, he said the sheriff's office will still be answering calls, including emergency calls if needed.

"We're not gonna leave the citizens hanging," Eubanks said.

The only difference, Eubanks said, is "are you going to have a white car pull up at your house or a gray car?"

Capt. Phillip Burnett Jr., commander of the state police post that covers Knox County, confirmed that the sheriff's office asked state police to pick up more cases that require an investigation.

The agency will do that, he said, but state police will not be answering all 911 calls. If a sheriff's deputy is not available for a call, a state officer will respond, but if state police are tied up, the sheriff's office will answer the call, Burnett said.

Eubanks said another reason for the change was that the sheriff's office will likely lose deputies in the coming months as they look for new jobs in anticipation of not being re-hired by a new sheriff.

The word is that none of the current deputies would be held over in the new administration, Eubanks said.

However, Smith, who faces Democrat nominee Kyle Campbell in the fall, said he has not made any statements about what personnel decisions he will make if he wins the office.

Former Knox County Sheriff Wilbur Bingham, who served five terms, said the volume of calls routed to the sheriff's office has gone up under Pickard because of a decision to operate a 911 center locally.

State police also took a larger share of the more serious cases during his tenure because he had few deputies, Bingham said. Still, Bingham said he didn't see a need to take fewer cases in his final months in office after Pickard beat him in May 2002.

"I took anything," he said.

Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655. Twitter: @billestep1

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