Wednesday, November 29, 2000
stays busy year-round
From head to toe, they look like police officers: with the department-issue handgun tucked into the gun belt, shiny badge on display and handcuffs at the ready.
They even tool around in patrol cars with the blue light bars on top.
But the deputies of the Fayette County Marshal's Department don't haul criminals into the jail very often.
Maybe it's because they're busy enforcing county ordinances, providing security at county buildings, patrolling areas for hunting and fishing violators and overseeing the county's risk reduction program. That only scrapes the surface of the variety of duties the nine deputy marshals handle.
In their daily battle to enforce county ordinances, the deputies' main weapon is a citation from their ticket book. But Chief Marshal C.L. Hall says that's a last resort, especially since most residents who violate county ordinances aren't aware of what's required of them.
"We're not out to make a bunch of cases," Hall said. "We just want them to come into compliance."
Hall pulls down the three-inch thick black binder containing a copy of all the county ordinances. He realizes there's no way county residents could know of each regulation that's in the book.
Take the county's sign ordinance, for instance. A county law forbids sign placement on rights of way, which varies from road to road, but that hasn't stopped signs from sprouting up in all the wrong places.
In the past few weeks, more than 150 signs have been removed because they didn't meet guidelines, Hall said. One irate sign owner called to complain Monday, asking for his sign back; Hall informed him he could pick it up at the county's maintenance shop.
Hall's rule of thumb for sign placement makes sense: place the signs even with the utility poles, which are usually right on the edge of the right-of-way.
To help curb the problem, the department is sending warning letters to repeat sign violators, letting them know they could be brought to court if the improper placement keeps happening.
But not all of the deputy marshals' duties are that simple. They also enforce hunting and fishing regulations, and recently that type of field work led to the arrest of a man wanted in Kentucky on a felony warrant for violating parole, Hall said.
It's not often that the marshals have to use their police powers to make an arrest, Hall said. But sometimes there are sticky situations where having police experience can be helpful, he added.
"Say a person calls in a barking dog complaint, and it turns out the wife and husband have been having a fight," Hall said. "You're liable to get into a drastic situation. It doesn't happen often, but it could happen anytime."
And although traffic enforcement is the domain of the sheriff's department and the city police departments, deputy marshals will make traffic stops if necessary to protect the public, Hall said. The deputy marshal could then write a citation or detain the suspect until the appropriate agency can arrive, the chief added.
"We need to get violators off the road if there's a traffic hazard," Hall said.
In addition to the county ordinances governing everything from illegal dumping to building codes, from zoning regulations to keeping leashes on animals. The marshal's department also delivers citations for the county Health Department and the tax commissioner, particularly for owners of trailers who haven't paid for their tax decal, Hall said.
The marshal's department also performs security checks on county buildings, investigates accidents with county-owned property and provides defensive driving courses for all county employees who drive a county vehicle, Hall said.
In 1998, the department added a marine unit, allowing for boaters' licenses to be checked also. That resulted in 766 boating safety inspections and 2,122 fishing license checks last year.
The department also enforces Department of Transportation regulations, which includes the inspection of tractor trailers. It also offers a hunter safety education course to the community and inspects local businesses that sell alcohol, both by the drink and by the package.
The varied work load leads to a busy crew, as the department handled more than 25,000 calls last year, compared to 19,000 the year before. The majority of those calls were for security checks on county property and special patrols related to security.
"You run from the barking dog calls to environmental regulations to illegal digging," Hall said. "No two days are the same."
Hall wants to expand the department enough to provide full 24-hour coverage. Currently, shifts end at midnight with one officer on call each night if anything comes up.