You Paid For It: Sheriff Escorts Costing Taxpayers Thousands

You Paid For It: Sheriff Escorts Costing Taxpayers Thousands

Maybe you have a couple of parties to go to and think a motorcycle escort would be nice. Call the Shelby County Sheriff, because with the right connections, you just might get one. But, it will come at the expense of and danger to all the other taxpayers in Shelby County.
MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - Maybe you have a couple of parties to go to and think a motorcycle escort would be nice. Call the Shelby County Sheriff, because with the right connections, you just might get one. But, it will come at the expense of and danger to all the other taxpayers in Shelby County.

You may think it's a presidential motorcade, but it's not. It's the way the Carnival Memphis king, queen and their royal court get around to parties and events during Carnival Week every June.

Started in 1931, Carnival Memphis is a who's who of Memphis business, political and social elite whose events raise money for children's charities.

The entourage often includes a big green bus and its costumed riders from the Secret Order of Boll Weevils. They call the bus their "Mobile Party Unit."

Shelby County deputies on motorcycles and in unmarked cars with… lights on and sirens blaring race ahead, blocking intersections to make sure the party rolls on uninterrupted.

But experts say there is nothing safe about any of this.

Captain Travis Yates of the Tulsa Police Department trains law enforcement drivers across the country.

"Lights and sirens can actually increase some of the dangers on the roadway," he said. "It gets pretty crazy to try to go through red lights, you know at busy intersections, even with lights and sirens on and dealing with numerous citizens coming up to that green light and not knowing that they need to stop, especially with all the distractions inside vehicles."

He added, "You make mistakes in these areas, bad, bad things can happen."

In 2011, the FBI reports 39 police officers were killed in crashes. The number of civilian deaths and injuries is not included.

Capt. Yates stated, "If you're not escorting someone that is of a high dignitary nature toward where their life is in danger without being escorted, it really is hard to justify an escort."

Shelby County Commission Chairman Mike Ritz says the sheriff's escorts are also an unnecessary expense to taxpayers.

"A lot of these people get an opportunity to speed around town because they've got a sheriff or policeman in front of them," Ritz said. "What this is, is essentially support of non-profits in most cases, which the budget was not intended to do."

In addition to Carnival, courtesy escorts are provided for the Liberty Bowl, the FedEx Golf Tournament, University of Memphis basketball, and other events on Sheriff Bill Oldham's watch.

Ritz claims, "What he does is, he makes choices of which ones to support and which ones don't. They're political decisions. They're political decisions for his own political good."

Documents show all those escorts have cost county taxpayers $316,000 in the past three years in pay and overtime…, including one deputy who logged 20 straight hours for the king and queen of the Carnival.

The Executive Director of Carnival Memphis declined a request for an interview. Carnival leaders did send a statement saying the escorts are needed for "the safe movement of over 100 people" to more than 40 visits during carnival week with needy children and seniors.

They say, "We would have to reduce by one-half the number of stops we make" without them.

But with Shelby County $50 million short in tax revenue for the next budget year, some county commissioners will have some pointed questions for Sheriff Bill Oldham when they consider his budget at meetings this week.

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