When Jeff Long became the high sheriff of Williamson County in 2008, he came with a wealth of experience of almost 40 years in law enforcement. The native of Parsons, Tenn., had served in the state Fire Marshal’s Office, worked for a previous sheriff of the county, spent 14 years at the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, and served as an assistant district attorney, among other jobs.
The City Paper sat down with him last week to discuss his job and the challenges faced by law enforcement in Tennessee’s sixth most populous county.
How many people work in your department?
We have about 250 people. We serve our citizens from county line to county line, doing everything from traffic enforcement to investigations.
And you break that up into departments …
Yes, we have a Detention Division, Criminal Investigation, Patrol, Court Security/Transportation/Warrants, School Resources, and a Litter Division. Litter is actually more part of the Detention Division.
What sort of cases are your deputies dealing with right now?
We work drug cases every day. A flex unit concentrates on street level dealers, and we work with the 21st Judicial District Task Force to capture larger offenders.
Is meth your biggest problem?
No. When I took office it was a big problem, but we instituted a task force to attack the problem and have seen a significant drop of that drug in the county. The people dealing in that are now in jail. Our number one issue is prescription drug abuse. We have people that go “doctor shopping” looking for prescriptions and kids that raid medicine cabinets and bring it into the schools. We are combating that problem with enforcement and prevention. On the prevention side we have installed a drop box at our jail where citizens can dispose of their no longer needed prescriptions instead of flushing them down the toilet or run the risk of having them find their way to the street. After prescription drugs, I would say marijuana is the second biggest drug we have to deal with.
As for other vice investigations, things like prostitution, those cases are more likely to be worked by the cities of Franklin and Brentwood police departments, where the hotels are.
What types of calls are most common for your officers to be dispatched on?
Our number one call is domestics. Ever since the economy turned down we have seen an increase in those calls. Before a deputy responds to a call we try to ascertain whether we are dealing with a verbal threat or physical abuse and respond accordingly.
What other crimes are common?
I wouldn’t say they are common, but we get people coming into the county due to our reputation, doing burglaries and stealing cars. Some people just don’t think and leave their keys in the car, especially this time of year.
What about homicides?
We have one that we are working that occurred in Fernvale a year or so ago. We don’t have homicides very often, maybe one every two years.
What would you say the biggest challenge facing your department right now?
Growth. With more people coming into the county we will have more traffic, and we have to keep up with that both budget and personnel-wise. As [state Route] 840 opens, that presents a new challenge too. We work 95 percent of all accidents in the county, and 840 will add to that.
Do you expect the Tennessee Highway Patrol to cover more of 840?
I’ll probably get in trouble for saying this, but we only have five or six state troopers assigned to the county, whereas Rutherford has about 30. Given officers’ schedules and such, the troopers assigned to our county can’t cover as much ground.