FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — The commissary items range from 40 cents for a toothbrush to $7 for an item of women’s underwear.

Candy bars like Hershey’s, Snickers, Reese’s peanut butter cups or Skittles cost $1.25.

The list isn’t long but obviously popular with Allen County inmates who supplement turkey baloney sandwiches and bland oatmeal with goodies you could easily buy at the grocery store.

Every month, inmates spend between $150,000 and $200,000 on commissary items that supplement the budget for the Allen County Sheriff’s Department, according to Gary Grant, Deputy Chief in charge of operations.

Even though the spending is discretionary and totally up to the Allen County Sheriff, the state audits the account every year, Grant said.

The commissary is governed by the State Board of Accounts. Every dime is accounted for that the sheriff uses it for. He uses it to buy vehicles. In fact, we just bought six vehicles out of commissary last week. He uses it to buy equipment, training for the officers, extra schools to send them to.

This year, Sheriff David Gladieux gave Chief Deputy Troy Hershberger the go-ahead to start a JCAP program – Jail Chemical Addictions Program – at the Allen County Jail, a program the command staff hopes will flourish. Commissary paid for that, Grant said.

Deputy Chief Gary Grant, in charge of operations at the Allen County Sheriff’s Department, says the state audits the jail commissary account. Funds are used to aid the department.

Commissary funds have been used for advertising when it comes to hiring confinement officers, one of the stepping stones to becoming a county road patrol officer and police officers. The Allen County Council approves funding for officers’ pay and in fact, approved last week $217,000 in hazard pay as a way to retain officers who’ve been on the job for at least a year.

But the recruitment was left up to the department with little money for that.

“We’ve come up with commercials, some advertising, some radio advertising. We partner with K105 to do quite a few commercials. That’s all been paid through commissary,” Grant said.

“It’s audited every year and the sheriff has no qualms about that happening at all.”

The sheriff could collect the funds and not spend it. But with county budgets that can be stretched so far, the commissary account has picked up costs like the funding of the new SWAT truck and the e-bike facility, both funded this year that cost about $300,000 each.

The SWAT truck became necessary as calls increased the department was forced to borrow from the Fort Wayne Police Department, Grant said. The EV bike facility came about after it was requested by county bike officers who patrol the local trails. In partnership with Recon Power Bikes here in Fort Wayne, the largest supplier of EV bikes for law enforcement in the nation, the facility will draw nationally from departments ready to come to Fort Wayne for training, the sheriff and Recon officials said.

But there was controversy last week when former sheriff Ken Fries, now a county councilman, said during the council’s public meeting he heard the current sheriff was drawing down the commissary to deplete it before the next sheriff came in. Gladieux’s handpicked chief deputy, Troy Hershberger, a Republican, is running this year against Capt. Kevin Hunter, a Democrat, who oversees the HART team at the Fort Wayne Police Department.

The Allen County Auditor provided commissary figures for the past decade. The funds generally have been spent year after year.
Jail commissary offerings are cheap but add up. Top sellers are ramen noodles and honey bun donut. Chili cheese chips, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, Doritos and chicken noodle also rank high.

Fries said Thursday in a text message that that he heard the rumor “second or third hand.” When asked why he mentioned it during a public meeting, he said he clarified his statement a few minutes later during the meeting to say “he didn’t know if it is true.” He did not want to comment further.

As of today, the commissary fund has $451,000 in it. Receipts from January to June were $1.6 million with disbursements at $2.5 million. Remembering that the fund is replenished every month at between $150,000 and $200,000, the numbers match up when $451,000 left over is taken into account.

In 2021, receipts were $1.6 million with disbursements at $1.4 million and the fund had a balance of $1.4 million at the end of last year.

No talk of drawing down commissary

Since 2013, when Fries was sheriff, receipts and disbursements have been fairly equal. During the last two years of Fries’ eight-year tenure, receipts were $987,000 and and $810,000 for years 2013 and 2014 with disbursements at $936,000 and $768,000, according to data from the Allen County auditor’s office.

Receipts from the commissary have generally gone up with 2021 coming to $1.5 million. This year, from January to June, receipts were $1.6 million.

But the receipts depend on what inmates buy and normally, what their friends and family put on their account.

Grant says COVID prevented the department from buying vehicles last year. This year, they need 12 to 15 new vehicles, but this year, with a proposed cut in vehicles at $90,000 from $390,000 to $300,000, the department will have to turn to the commissary account to buy the extra vehicles that went from about $27,000 to $36,000.

“The sheriff could let it build up and let it build up. You know working with County Council and the current budgets we get every year, anything extra that we need,” like extra schools, or updating policies with the help of a law firm that specializes in law enforcement policy, that’s what it’s used for.

Is there any talk of drawing it down? Grant was asked.

“Zero. Zero. I don’t see the sheriff having any discussion with anybody about how much is in commissary at the time. It’s presented to the sheriff what’s needed from his staff. His staff, his captains, his chiefs will come and say what they need in their divisions and then he evaluates that and decides whether he wants to use commissary or not,” Grant said.

“There’s never been a discussion between him and I and any other chief about how much is in there, we need to lower it, we need to raise it, we need to do anything with commissary. It’s what is best for the department. That’s what the sheriff looks at,” Grant said.