Sheriff Lunceford: New radio access requirements to protect personal information

Published 6:07 pm Friday, October 12, 2018

Editor’s note: In the original version of this article, there were misquotes. The first was a quote by Ken Potter saying “We are not police officers, and we will never be.” That quote should have read, “We are not POST (Peace Officer Standards  and Training) officers, and we will never be.”  The article also incorrectly stated that Potter was for the new Sheriffs Department requirements besides the requiring of a POST-approved psychological evaluation. Potter does not agree with any parts of the new policy and requirements. The Elizabethton Star apologizes for the mistakes. The below article has been updated with added information. 

A new policy enacted by the Carter County Sheriffs Department has raised some concern, but Carter Couty Sheriff Dexter Lunceford said there is a good reason for the new rule.
On Sept 9, the Carter County Sheriffs Department issued a letter authored by Sheriff Lunsford to Carter County constables informing the constables that their access to computer systems and radio frequencies owned by the Sheriff’s Department would be revoked on Oct. 11 unless the constables meet three requirements.

According to the letter, those three requirements are:
—A minimum of 40 hours of training instructed by the Sheriff’s Department at the department’s cost.
—A background check completed and passed by the Sheriff’s Department at the department’s cost.
—A POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training)-approved psychological evaluation completed and passed at the constable’s cost.

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“This doesn’t have anything to do with them being a constable,” said Lunceford during an interview with the Elizabethton Star. “It has to do with them accessing police computer systems that I am responsible for. As soon as they meet those qualifications, they will be granted access.”
The computer systems that Lunceford is talking about are the NCIC and TIES networks which grants law enforcement access to a trove of personal information.

“It is computer systems that give us as law enforcement access to your personal information such as your driver’s license, your history, your social security number, your addresses, your phone numbers,” said Lunceford. “Private, confidential information.”

Lunceford went to say that he is responsible for anyone accessing the TIES and NCIC networks under the department’s Originating Agency Identifier or ORI, which is an identifying number given to agencies or individuals that have access to the above systems. Lunceford also said that constables could apply for their own ORIs if they didn’t want to go through the Sheriffs Department.

“The gist of it is this, I am not releasing your personal information to anyone until they have been properly vetted,” said Lunceford.

The new policy and letter have raised concerns among the Carter County constables. Constable Ken Potter, who has been in law enforcement for 40 years in the Tri-Cities, said that having access to the radio and other systems play a crucial role in them doing their jobs safely.

“For all these years, constables have had access to the radio,” said Potter to the Elizabethton Star. “It is a lifeline. It is also a lifeline for the public. Without the radio, you are pretty well helpless. You can’t check on registrations or wanted persons. If you are wounded or are involved in an incident, you can’t call anyone to help you.

“I understand the Sheriff makes policies, and I respect him for his decision,” added Potter. “We train every year and are in compliance with state law. We give 40 hours of in-service training. We spend the day on the shooting range. We are not POST officers, and we will never be. We are elected officials by the same people who chose the Sheriff, and according to state law, we are within compliance.”

Potter said he doesn’t agree with any part of Lunceford’s letter. Potter also noted that constables will not ever be under the Tennessee POST commission. The POST commision is responsible for creating and enforcing standards for local police officers, according to the website.

“The first line of their requirement is the officer be full time and salaried working for a government agency,” said Potter. “We are elected and we are not working for a government agency. We are certainly not full time. So with that, we will not be under POST commision.”

Potter also said that the requirement that constables pay for a psychological evaluation is an issue since a constable doesn’t make money serving as a constable beside when they serve a warrant.

“A Constable doesn’t make any money,” said Potter. “He is not a salaried officer. The only time he or she makes money is when they serve a paper. It is the only job I have had where I have to pay to do it.”

As of Thursday, Sheriff Lunceford said none of the constables had completed any of the requirements.

Potter said that he would like to have a sit down with Lunceford to see if a solution could be reached.

“I don’t know if somebody violated something or did something that offended the Sheriff. If so, we need to get that straightened out,” said Potter.