Wednesday, April 06, 2016 11:20 PM
The Guilford County Sheriff’s Department plans to build a bare bones hotel on the old Prison Farm property to be used – for free, whenever needed – by 13 of the department’s most popular and distinguished investigators.
The structure, which will be built near the Sheriff’s Department’s shooting range in eastern Guilford County, if the commissioners approve the move on Thursday, April 7, would be the living quarters – as well as a training facility – for 13 canine members of the department. The dogs would remain there at times when their human masters were unable to keep them.
Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes is asking the Board of Commissioners to approve his request to spend $135,850 for the kennel. Those canines with the right to stay in the new upscale doghouse any time they need to are specialists in locating lost or kidnapped people, detecting bombs, sniffing out hidden narcotics and protecting their human counterparts. They also have other skills that aid the Sheriff’s Department’s operations. In order to maintain needed certifications of proficiency, the animals go through extensive and regular training – much of which will take place at the new canine facility.
Normally, the dogs live with the deputies who handle them. Hhowever, at times those officers can’t keep the dogs at home or take the dogs on vacation and they need to board the animals. A Sheriff’s Department memo on the need for the new kennel states, “trained canines require qualified handlers and can not simply be boarded, should the handler require a leave of absence or request approved vacation leave. These highly trained resource animals need to be housed in a facility equipped to meet their needs and maintain their training regimen.”
Early last year, the commissioners voted to shut down Guilford County’s Prison Farm – just over 800 acres of pastures and woodland in eastern Guilford County and western Alamance County that inmates farmed for 80 years. Barnes said that, when the Prison Farm was open, there was no problem keeping the dogs. He said he had a kennel at the farm and, when crops were being grown out there and cattle being raised, there was always someone to look after the department’s canines.
“Farm workers could keep an eye on them,” Barnes said.
Now that the farm is closed, the sheriff said, this new facility is badly needed.
Barnes said that he told county administrators last year that he needed the facility built if they were shutting down the operations at the Prison Farm, and he added that, in the initial talks, there was an understanding the county would pay for the kennel rather than the Sheriff’s Department. The project grew in scope, however, so Barnes plans to pay for it out of the federal forfeiture funds his department holds.
“They said I could have anything I need as long as I pay for it,” Barnes joked.
Not long ago, there was over $1 million in the department’s federal forfeiture fund, which is made up of money confiscated from drug dealers and other criminals as well as the proceeds of the sale of cars, boats, houses and other confiscated property. However, that fund been shrinking and it now sits at $791,485.
In December, the US Department of Justice, out of the blue, halted the program that helped pay for special projects for law enforcement departments across the country. However, in late March, the federal government reversed that decision and now Barnes is using money from the fund to pay for the project, something he said he doesn’t mind doing since once again there will be more where that came from.
“My understanding is it cost more than they expected for the buildings,” the sheriff wrote in an email this week. “I’m fine with spending the forfeiture [money] for it since they have reinstated the fund and we saved money on the equipment we need for the Special Operations Division, which I’m also using forfeiture for.”
The Sheriff’s Department is putting the finishing touches on a new Special Operations Center at 508 Industrial Ave., just south of I-40 and west of Old US 421, which should be open very soon.
The new canine facility, expected to be approved by commissioners this week, will be made of reinforced fiberglass on a concrete base and will have heating, air conditioning and plumbing.
The fact that the money will be coming out of the federal forfeiture funds makes the commissioners’ decision easier: In the past, the board, which must approve expenditures from the fund, has tended to give the sheriff a good deal of discretion when it comes to spending that money.
Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips said he’s generally in favor of leaving law enforcement-related matters up to the sheriff, but he still said he has some questions about whether the Sheriff’s Department’s current expenses will be reduced with the use of the kennel.
Phillips said it’s his understanding that only select facilities can handle law enforcement canines and those businesses sometimes have limited available space.
“Up until now he’s been paying a particular kennel that has a good bit of experience handling law enforcement canines,” Phillips said. “From time to time that facility is full.”
The kennel isn’t Barnes’ only request on the commissioners’ agenda for Thursday night. The Sheriff’s Department is also asking the board to pull the trigger on over $1.1 million for new law enforcement vehicles. Money for that big purchase was put in the 2015-2016 budget adopted last June and now it’s time to fill the request.