Spunaugle recaps active year for sheriff’s office
The Montgomery County Sheriff’s office closed out an active 2023.
Montgomery County Sheriff Jon Spunaugle said one type of calls that the sheriff’s office dealt with the most last year was disputes.
“Disputes could be a simple argument or disagreement with people to a full-blown domestic situation. I’d say that’s one of the things we most often deal with in the county,” Spunaugle said.
More than 12,000 calls were dispatched through the communications center, with 310 dispute calls, 112 domestic calls and numerous calls for disabled vehicles. The sheriff’s office conducted 210 arrests, and said the majority of the arrests were alcohol or drug related, disturbance calls or suspicious activity, and disputes. Spunaugle said they only had 1,000 less calls for service than the Red Oak Police Department.
“That tells me we’re getting a lot of calls. They have half of the population in one location, whereas we’re going out everywhere in the rest of the county. We also back them up on their own calls. Our call volume has definitely increased. It’s not normal for us to be that close to the city in separated calls,” advised Spunaugle. “We had 34 assault calls, I think that’s a lot for no bigger a county we are. And when you factor in the 112 domestic calls, that averages at about two calls per week. We also had 96 calls that were family disputes, which is a lot of calls of that nature.”
Also, much like the Red Oak Police Department, they still received a high volume of calls that were mental health related.
“I don’t think mental health calls are ever going to go down. I don’t think they’re going to do anything but increase,” commented Spunaugle.
Technology continues to be a driving factor, with Spunaugle saying they have done a number of technology upgrades, including upgrading the computers in the cars.
“We finished that project, which was begun in 2022. All of the cars are now equipped with laptops rather than tablets. I feel we did really good with getting the most we could out of our old tablets. We went a good year or two past their life expectancy, so we got our money’s worth there. Those have all been updated as of 2023. We’re constantly doing upgrades in the vehicles.”
Spunaugle said the sheriff’s office also took the opportunity in 2023 to update all of the tasers being used.
“We had tasers that were very old and were failing. It’s kind of weird, but they go corrupt, and when that happens, they no longer work. We managed to pay for all of the upgraded tasers with money left over from the American Rescue Plan Act. As long as the old tasers lasted, we should get a lot of life out of them,” stated Spunaugle.
Another major upgrade done by the sheriff’s office last year was to upgrade the sights on their sidearms, and other technology.
“We went to new RMR sights, which have been a learning curve. It seems like we’re always doing upgrades around here. We also upgraded Guardian, which is our inmate tracking system. That helps out the jail a lot. We know if the inmate was moved, how they’re sleeping, what they’re eating, and what they’re doing. It’s very specific, and helps the jailers out a lot,” Spunaugle said. “Finally, at the dispatch center, we updated the recording system. We’ve done a lot of upgrades this past year.”
The staff remains largely the same, except for adding a second employee to the front desk. Also, the sheriff’s office is maintaining a strong retention rate.
“We all work very well together, and everyone has a part in how things operate, which makes things more cohesive for everyone. There are four of us there that are at or more than 30 years with the sheriff’s office. And the next one down has been here about 15 years, and after that, it’s five years and below. We’re kind of split half and half with veterans and newer deputies,” advised Spunaugle. “I think that helps with retention because they have someone to fall back on if they need help. They have seasoned deputies and myself to fall back on. Also, everyone on the department is from here. We get along good, and we have a good balance. There’s not a whole staff of young guys trying to learn off each other, which I believe helps us a lot.”
Spunaugle said the sheriff’s office is down one newer deputy, who took a position with the Pottawattamie County Sheriff’s office, and efforts are currently underway to hire that deputy’s replacement.
While headquartered in Red Oak, Spunaugle said the sheriff’s office is contracted for police coverage in Villisca and Stanton, and patrols many other places.
“We’re not contracted with any of the others, as they are small enough they are not required to have dedicated police protection. We do a lot of emergency calls in communities like Elliott, Grant, Wales, and Coburg, but we do more than emergency calls. If someone has a theft or vandalism incident for example, we’re going to go up and take a report and investigate it. Stanton and Villisca are slightly different, as since they contract with us, we have a set number of hours we patrol in that community just as if they were to have someone hired as a dedicated officer,” Spunaugle explained.
Spunaugle added the sheriff’s office is also at the ready to provide mutual aid outside of Montgomery County.
“In particular, we’ll respond to any of the counties that touch Montgomery County. If they call, we’re going. I’d say we do the most mutual aid with Mills County. I think that’s due in part to Emerson being so close to us, right across the Montgomery County line. But if Page county calls, or another county calls, we’re responding. And if we have a situation here, Page County and those other counties will come here as well. We don’t even have to ask them. It’s a good system. Southwest Iowa is pretty tight knit, and we all get along very well,” Spunaugle stated.
Of all the situations they’ve been involved with this past year, Spunaugle said they tackled a number of drug cases.
“We executed more than 10 search warrants, and we executed a lot of drug cases. Some of those drug cases were fairly substantial ones. We also worked on a case involving stolen tools. That was a big case and it took a lot of man hours. Investigation-wise, we spend a lot of time on drug investigations. It remains very prevalent, and I don’t ever see it going away. I feel like we’re keeping up, as the drug scene is constantly changing,” commented Spunaugle. “The amount of methamphetamine coming in has increased, and it’s a lot more pure. It doesn’t seem like it’s being produced here in the county, or if it is, it’s very miniscule. Fentanyl is also appearing in the county, but methamphetamine is still the county’s main drug problem.”
Also in 2023, the sheriff’s office conducted the largest sale it had ever undertaken, selling more than 100 lots of forfeited tools by sealed bids.
“There was really no other way to do it, there was so much stuff. We had to break it down into lots. We pondered a lot of different ways to auction off the tools. We also sold a number of vehicles and motorcycles, and I think all told we raised nearly $30,000. It helps out seized and forfeited fund a lot. We have to budget for the money, and if we don’t use it, we don’t lose it. Forfeited funds have to be used for non-budgetary items that will enhance drug enforcement, including night vision, or an undercover car. Anything that will help us do our job better or keep us safer. It’s nice to have that there so we can purchase equipment that comes along,” Spunaugle commented.
The Red Oak Police Department and Red Oak Fire Department purchased new vehicles for their fleets in 2023, and Spunaugle said the sheriff’s office also maintains a healthy vehicle rotation.
“We add a vehicle every year. We’re in a rotation. Ideally, we would replace one every year, but every now and again, we’ll have a year where I need more than one car because one has been totaled by a deer, or the engine was blown, and the fleets looking good at this point. I think the oldest vehicle we have now is a 2019, and we put a lot of miles on them. They can put 25,000 miles on a vehicle in a year. By the time we hit year five, we’re pushing a lot of miles on those cars,” Spunaugle stated.
Also, much like the ROPD, Spunaugle said the available offerings are shifting now away from regular cars.
“You can’t even get a Dodge Charger right now. I’m not sure you can even get sedans any more. Also, I’ve found that the SUVs have a far greater trade in value than a car. When we got our first SUV, it was in 2008, other than that, it was all cars. When we went to replace those, if we got $2,500 out of a Charger, we were doing good, and I remember when I traded in my 2015 Tahoe for a 2021 Tahoe, we got $17,000 in trade-in. The trade-in value will pay for itself as you keep going,” Spunaugle explained.
Spunagule said the sheriff’s office continues to maintain a two-dog K-9 unit, and both of the dogs are younger. The deputies work on opposite schedules so a dog is available part of the day, every day.
Spunaugle also shared that he’s pleased that he and the deputies are able to continue to provide a high level of public safety around the area.
“We’re always looking for something different we can do to make it better. Sometimes that means spending some money, but we’re always looking for ways to enhance the department and what we do, or make it easier and better for the public. We constantly keep improving and keep up to date as much as we possibly can. When it’s time to upgrade cars and equipment, we’re doing that as much as we possibly can. If you’re willing to put the tools in their hands, they’ll use them.”
Looking ahead to 2024, Spunaugle said he’s anxious to bring on a new deputy and get back to fully-staffed.
“I don’t like being short. Short hurts everybody. It hurts the public, and us, because guys get tired of working overtime. I want to get us back to full-staffed and get going. I also want to remain proactive, not reactive. I’m always looking for something, and that’s what I try to instill in all the deputies. Just because we’re not getting calls, that doesn’t mean nothing is happening, so I tell them to go look. I think that keeps the deputies going. It keeps them from getting into a feeling that nothing ever happens around here,” Spunaugle commented.
This year is also an election year for Spunaugle, so he said he’ll be focusing on that, as well as keeping ahead on drug investigations.
“Drugs and alcohol always lead to everything else in some way, shape or form. If we can curtail that, we can knock down a lot of the other crimes we have to investigate as well.”