Madison Co. sheriff talks department’s move to new location
MADISON COUNTY, Tenn. — The sheriff’s department is preparing to move its headquarters to the old West Middle School building in Denmark. WBBJ 7 Eyewitness News got a first look at the construction and why the sheriff says they must move from their current building.
It’s a move that doesn’t come without controversy as many fear the move away from the central part of the county will affect response times.
There will be a total of 16 training rooms at the new location, and the sheriff says agencies from across the country are signing up to use them.
“It’s state of the art. Nobody else has it throughout the state,” Madison County Sheriff John Mehr said. “It will benefit West Tennessee, but it will really benefit Jackson-Madison County.”
Mehr says the move out of downtown Jackson will bring in state agencies including the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Correction and the Tennessee Highway Patrol. But he says the biggest change will be felt, not seen.
“Air conditioned, and we will have heat, which has been and is a problem now,” Sheriff Mehr said.
The sheriff walked us through his current office, formerly a dorm for the old Union University.
“Actually the foyer where people come to visit is very small and compact out there,” Mehr said. “We have no heating and cooling in that waiting room.”
Built in the 1960s, Mehr says many offices are still joined by bathrooms and that showers are hidden behind some walls — along with bigger issues.
“Our piping that we have throughout the building has actually deteriorated,” the sheriff said. He says ceiling tiles and carpet show the proof.
“The cost of redoing the piping in our building plus the air conditioner and all that we were going to have to do was about $800,000,” Mehr said.
He said he’s not in favor of putting his offices inside the proposed new multi-million dollar jail.
“Downtown Jackson is so congested. If we built the sheriff’s office there, then it would really be a congested area,” Sheriff Mehr said.
He said moving out of downtown was an idea brought to him by Commissioner Gary Deaton.
“This was a building that was closed by the school system, and the first thing on our mind was how do you take a building like this and make it productive,” Deaton said.
The sheriff says the location makes sense.
“The County Commission asked if we could use part of West and we move out there, and we evaluated it. It’s basically the center of the county,” Mehr said.
Sheriff Mehr says the new facility will offer what he calls the “bells and whistles” they currently don’t have. “Large conference room, training room for the department — we can bring people when we are doing some type of operation that has gone on. We can bring people, and we will have the lecture podium up here,” he said.
The new headquarters is set to open July 7, but not without controversy. “A couple people thought putting law enforcement out in this community would affect the community in a negative way,” Mehr said.
Many people across the county are also concerned moving the department from the city center will delay response times.
Sheriff Mehr said that isn’t the case. “You got quicker response time from out here,” he said.
So WBBJ 7 Eyewitness News put it to the test. It took us 33 minutes to get to the new location from Beech Bluff at around one o’clock in the afternoon. It took 16 minutes to get to the downtown location. But Mehr maintains it’s still a quicker drive for most.
“Even our staff in the office that drove in were kind of upset at first because ‘I have so much farther to drive’ because they live on the other side of Jackson, but they found out it was quicker to get here,” the sheriff said.
Sheriff Mehr says this permanent move will help more than just his department.
“We get people in from out of state and they have to have hotel rooms. They have to have food. Hopefully even the travel with the airport,” he said.
The sheriff says he also hopes the training provided at the new facility will be accredited and can go toward college classes.
The sheriff’s department is only paying for materials. All the labor is being provided by the Tennessee Department of Correction.