Sheriff Knight: South County jail facility no longer needed

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VENICE, Fla. – Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight has announced he will be shutting down the facility known as the South County Jail in just a few months, saying it will save a million dollars a year.

However, some of the other law enforcement agencies which utilize it say it will have a negative impact on them.

Sheriff Knight says times have changed since the holding facility, located in the back of the Venice Police Department on Ridgewood Avenue, was established in the 1970's. He says it's a legal and financial liability now that they’re simply arresting fewer people. "We've seen a significant decrease in crime throughout our community."

He says a 38% decrease in South County per year now compared to just five years ago. After more than three decades he says they no longer need to run the Venice holding facility. "The most important thing for me is to make sure I am running my operations as efficiently as I can. There is a million dollars there of citizens money that is not being used I believe appropriately."

"I am disappointed in the fact the South County Jail is going to close," says Venice Police Chief Tom McNulty, who says it will be a challenge to drive inmates all the way to downtown Sarasota for each arrest. "In our particular case, to send an officer up to the Sarasota Jail could take them off the road for probably an hour and half. It could put us at minimal manning. We are going to have to make some organizational decisions ourselves; maybe ask for more manpower from the city."

North Port's police chief says with an ever longer drive it will have a big impact on his department, too.

The sheriff says there are other factors. The South County facility doesn't have scanning equipment or a medical staff. "It reduces our risk for litigation where we have a medical staff that reviews anyone that comes into our jail."

Because of that, the sheriff says many of the arrestees are already being taken to downtown Sarasota.

North Port and Venice's police leaders say they'll make do somehow. Chief McNulty says taking more officers off patrol could come at an expense in other ways. "I think we should all be looking at the fact that it may cost money. It may cost a million dollars, but you cannot put a price on safety of our citizens. That is why we are here."

The sheriff says his office uses the facility more than the others, so he knows the costs. The savings will however afford him the ability to hire six additional deputies.

Much of the growth in Sarasota County is expected in the south. The sheriff says if another holding facility is needed in the area it could be implemented into future expansion of the South County Courthouse. There he says they could have all the right equipment.