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Doing a lot with a little

Posted: January 9, 2014 9:46 a.m.
Updated: January 10, 2014 5:00 a.m.

The Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) recently released its crime statistics for 2013 and most categories of offenses were noticeably down from 2012. Kudos to the KCSO for having such a productive year. I won’t go very deep into that here, as a story on the subject is planned for an upcoming issue of the Chronicle-Independent.

But, as I was visiting Sheriff Jim Matthews while working on that story, I was shocked to learn the sheriff’s office has a mere five officers working each shift to cover this entire county. I was flabbergasted. What? Five deputies per shift to serve the entire county? I thought he was kidding me. He wasn’t.

Matthews said the situation gets even more dire when a deputy makes an arrest. Using a driving while intoxicated case as an example, the sheriff said arresting a drunk driver and taking him or her to jail takes that deputy off the road for nearly three hours. Transporting the suspect, administering the Datamaster breath test, interviewing the arrestee, booking them into the detention center, writing up the report and preserving the evidence in the case are all essential steps that can’t be bypassed. Otherwise the charge may not stick like it should. It all takes time.

So, during those times the county police force on the road goes from five to four. What if two deputies make arrests at nearly the same time? You guessed it. From five down to three.

Everyone wants good police protection, along with good roads, water and sewer systems and all the other things good government can and should provide. But no one wants to pay more taxes in order to have the best of everything. That includes me. Life is expensive enough.

But, I do realize nothing comes for free and good things come at a price. The old adage, “you get what you pay for,” is never more true than when talking about tax dollars being used to finance police and sheriff’s departments. Well, sort of. It appears to me that in Kershaw County, we don’t get what we pay for from the sheriff’s office. No … we get more.

The sheriff has to be much more than a cop. He has to be an administrator and even a businessman, of sorts. Since he’s in an elected position, he even has to be a politician. That’s a lot of juggling and is done under great scrutiny and criticism from the public and from at least some of those who hold the power over his department’s finances.

One huge expense the sheriff’s office has is vehicles. You know a basic car is costly, but add in the necessary electronics, the markings, the light bar, etc., and that cost goes up dramatically. The people inside that car also need and deserve the finest uniforms, protective gear, weaponry and training. That all adds up.

They also deserve to make a decent living and that, all too often, just isn’t the case. Sheriff’s deputies and other law enforcement officers frequently change departments to receive even a modest increase in salary and/or benefits. I have heard many sheriffs and police chiefs lament this fact. They often pay for an officer’s academy training and give them a few months experience only to have them go to greener pastures within just a few months. You can’t fault them for seeking out a better paycheck. It happens in every business, but if their compensation more closely fit the hard work they do and the risks they take, they wouldn’t be so quick to jump ship.

I have also known officers who got completely out of the law enforcement business to make better money selling insurance or cars or even working in a factory. These were men and women whose life-long dream was to be a cop. They loved the job, but simply couldn’t support themselves and their families on the available pay. Sad.

So, what’s the answer? I say the first step is a change in attitude -- by the taxpayers and by the ones in power who control the purse strings. Appreciate our law enforcement community and let your county representatives know that five deputies looking after Kershaw County is not enough. Not nearly enough. Did you know that is the situation? I didn’t until my talk with the sheriff. It made me realize that he and his people really do a lot with the little they are given. For that, I thank them.


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