ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL) – Carter County Sheriff Mike Fraley is days away from completing his first year as the county’s law enforcement leader.

Fraley, a long-time employee of the sheriff’s office, took over a department last year with an uncertain future.

Prior to his departure, previous Sheriff Dexter Lunceford penned an open letter detailing a lack of funding that had led to severe understaffing. That understaffing played a role in the county jail facing de-certification from the Tennessee Corrections Institute.

Additionally, the shuffling of human resources in an attempt to staff the jail led to shortages of school resource officers. Only four SROs were working at the county’s high schools last year, according to Lunceford’s letter.

Since he took over, however, Fraley said he has seen positive improvements in all of those areas.

“The last year has been tough,” Fraley said. “I have accomplished a lot of goals, but I’m nowhere near close to seeing through what I want to get finished.”

Fraley said the department’s improvements can be attributed to a hiring push helped in part by a $5/hour pay raise approved by the Carter County Commission last November. He said the raise gave the department a competitive advantage over neighboring county sheriff’s offices.

“For about six months, we were the highest-paid department in the region,” Fraley said. “Now that we’ve accomplished that, we’re turning people away, which is a really good problem to have.”

The influx of new hires helped the jail avoid de-certification last December.

Fraley said he now has between seven and eight officers working each shift at the jail, but he said the department’s hiring is far from over.

“Six is a very safe number,” Fraley said. “Anything above that just makes me feel a whole lot better. We’re above on that, but we’re not exactly there yet.”

On patrol, Fraley said he has five deputies working each shift, up from three when he took over last year.

“We were so depleted last year,” Fraley said. “My goal is to get to seven or eight per shift, and I plan on accomplishing that.”

The hiring spree is also making an impact in Carter County Schools. The district started the year with an SRO in every school.

Back in the election, increasing SRO staffing was a campaign priority for Fraley.

Despite some fluctuation in the SRO staffing from some medical and personal issues, Fraley said every school is being filled by somebody in the department every day.

Fraley said it is a change that makes the district safer.

“My biggest fear when I wake up in the morning is something bad happening at those schools,” Fraley said. “That’s why it’s so important that they be the first one there and the last one to leave.”

Fraley said he has also seen a difference in department morale over the last year, and that’s helped with their hiring.

“People are believing in what we’re trying to sell to them,” Fraley said. “We’ve had several officers that have brought friends and through word of mouth to have people come in.”

Now moving into year two, Fraley said his goal now is to continue hiring and get more officers on the streets.

Fraley said he plans to cut some patrol zones in half in an effort to reduce response times.