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Gazette Premium Content Maketa set to upgrade sheriff's department

BOB STEPHENS Updated: November 9, 2012 at 12:00 am

Sheriff Terry Maketa experienced an odd feeling the morning after the election, the morning after El Paso County voters passed ballot measure 1A.

“I was driving to work in a mindset I hadn’t been able to experience since I became sheriff,” Maketa said. “It was the first day in 10 years I felt we’d have the resources to address what we need.

“It was such a sense of relief.”

Maketa’s tax proposal passed by a wide margin — 64 percent of voters approved 1A — and is expected to generate about $17 million yearly for the sheriff’s office. It’s scheduled to sunset in eight years.

Most of the money will go for personnel and equipment. Maketa plans to add 46 patrol deputies, a 60 percent increase in the force, and about 30 civilian employees, mostly as dispatchers, security technicians in the jail and to keep records.

“It’ll be so different to be planning proactively, instead of planning for the worst-case scenario,” Maketa said.

In the nine weeks before the election, from the day county commissioners told Maketa they’d put 1A on the ballot, the sheriff said he saw a change in his office.

“I saw so much hope in my people, something I hadn’t seen in a long time,” he said. “They’d been beat down, but this was true hope, true excitement. If 1A didn’t pass, I was worried about what to say to them, how to pick them back up.”

Now, instead of having seven to 10 deputies on patrol, Maketa anticipates 14 to 18.

“It’s going to be amazing,” said Sgt. John Sackisia. “Seven deputies for the whole county is crazy. To have 14 and seven in the south and seven in the north, this is amazing. It’s a whole different world.”

Response times will be quicker and deputies will be able to depend on backup units.

“It means more safety for first responders,” said Fountain Mayor Jeri Howells, who said she’s a long-time supporter of public safety.

Maketa said he will finally be able to fully staff the Criminal Justice Center — the county’s only jail.

“We won’t have to call people in on their day off,” Maketa said. “We won’t have to do compensatory time, giving people time-and-a-half off to avoid overtime, which is robbing Peter to pay Paul. We won’t have to worry about burnout.

“We’ll be able to follow up on cases, be able to walk neighborhoods, talk to people, spend more time with citizens when they need our help.

“Rather than handle 1,800 calls a year, our deputies will be able to be like the rest of the Front Range and handle about 900 calls.”

Maketa said deputies should show more of a presence by mid-2013, when additional deputies have been trained. He plans on having three deputy academies, with about 40 people in each, in the next year.

“We didn’t even have an academy in 2009,” Maketa said. “We had one the last few years, with 25 to 29 people. We’ve had to maintain existing staff and usually replace 20 to 25 a year.”

Maketa was criticized for asking commissioners to add a tax proposal to the ballot so close to the election. Maketa said he approached commissioners for more money every year and was turned down. He saw no other solution.

Commissioner chairwoman Amy Lathen was surprised 1A passed so easily.

“I think Terry has done a great job of being sheriff for 10 years and that’s why it passed,” Lathen said. “People have a huge amount of trust in the sheriff.”

Voters turned down a similar measure in 2008, though it was a tax increase to support law enforcement entities throughout the county. Maketa made this more specific, and only for eight years.

“When it sunsets, if we feel the need to renew it, we’ll be able to show what it did,” commissioner Darryl Glenn said. “History says it wouldn’t pass, but it was set up to succeed.”

Maketa said he will provide frequent updates on what the money is used for through social media and the press. He said a Facebook page (SOS 1A) created prior to the election may remain active.

“Accountability was a selling point for this,” Maketa said. “We’ll live up to that.”

• Reporter Erin Prater contributed to this report.

Contact Bob Stephens: 636-0276 Twitter @bobgstephens

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