JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — Tennessee Republican gubernatorial candidate Randy Boyd met with area law enforcement officials Tuesday to help develop his plans to assist the state’s criminal justice system.
Boyd gathered officials from throughout Northeast Tennessee at a Carnegie Hotel meeting room on Tuesday to discuss topics such as the opioid crisis, mental health transportation and jail overcrowding. The candidate said he recently met with officials in Jackson and Memphis to discuss similar topics before gathering in Johnson City.
Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford said mental health transportation is a major issue for law enforcement in Tennessee. Police are required to transport mental health patients to facilities, which takes officers away from other duties.
“We have to get out of the business of mental transport,” Lunceford said.
The sheriff told Boyd about 99 percent of those transported for mental health issues have committed no crime; however, sometimes crimes are committed during transportation.
“We are criminalizing actions they may take while being transported,” Lunceford said.
Cocke County Sheriff Armando Fontes said police want to help people, but the resources are not available to transport mental health patients.
Greene County Sheriff Pat Hankins said he was concerned by the lack of Tennessee Highway Patrol helicopters in Northeast Tennessee. A helicopter was once stationed in the region but is now kept in Nashville. Hankins said helicopters can be useful when searching for missing individuals in rural areas.
Fontes said there’s also a need for funding for narcotics investigations. He suggested the state create grant funding for narcotics units and officers.
Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge noted the problem of state inmates being housed in county jails. Sheriffs in attendance said a large portion of inmates in their jails are pre-trial individuals, people who have not yet been convicted of a crime.
A large number of inmates who have been convicted of state charges, but have not been transported to state prison, are also housed in county jails, officials said.
Boyd said he would take the subjects into consideration and create a plan if and when he’s elected governor in 2018. If elected, Boyd said he already plans to develop a “war on opioids,” particularly focusing on overprescribing in the state.