Sheriff blames budget cuts for long lines at Portsmouth Courthouse

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — As predicted, there were long lines outside the Portsmouth Courthouse Friday after 25 sheriff’s deputies were let go, effective July 1.

The Portsmouth Sheriff’s Office budget was cut by $1 million for FY2016. Sheriff Bill Watson said the cuts resulted in lost personnel that staffed security positions at the courthouse.

More than 60 people waited in line, at times, Friday morning to get through the front security entrance of the building. The lines were not a shock to Sheriff Watson, who predicted people would wait given the reduction in manpower.

“Everything we’ve predicted has come true,” Sheriff Watson said. “It’s going to be a cluster out here … If you take 25 people out of the group, you know things are going to slow down. It’s like going to Wal-Mart: you have 40 registers and two of them are open. It slows them down.”

The congestion was at the front entrance of the building, where four deputies were patrolling Friday, down from seven or eight in the past. The total number of deputies in the building has dropped from 42 to 17.

“It’s ridiculous,” said Delmika Reid, who was one of the dozens who waited in line. “You come out here. You come to court, and your thinking you are going to go, get in and go about your business, but you can’t because you stand in the long line.”

In addition to lines at the door, the sheriff said the cuts leave less deputies to transfer inmates from jail to their court appearances, and there’s also less personnel in the courtrooms.

“We’re expected to put our lives on the line for these judges, and they can’t even help my employees,” Watson said.

The sheriff expects wait times to continue on busy days at the courthouse. As for resident’s complaints, he is directing them to the mayor and city council, who voted to cut money from the department.

Sheriff Watson said seven part-time deputies have been hired to work roughly 20 hours per week. Still, he feels security has been compromised. did reach out to Mayor Kenny Wright for comment on the wait times, but our calls were not returned Friday. He has told 10 On Your Side in recent weeks, “There’s no doubt in my mind the courthouse will be safe and secure.”

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