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Matthews and Thomley set for rematch Tuesday

Posted: June 5, 2014 5:44 p.m.
Updated: June 6, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Q: Why should voters who didn’t vote for you four years ago vote for you this time?

Jim Matthews: Prior to my candidacy for Kershaw County Sheriff, few people knew of me and had no point of reference from which to judge or evaluate me. Some even thought that I was lying on my resume, assuming I was too young to do what I said I had done, until they found out my age. During my campaigning, I promised to do a number of things to improve the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office and many thought that I would not be able to accomplish my goals. However, I have been told over and over again that “He did what he said he was going to do.” I think people like it when a politician makes a promise and keeps it. Under my administration, the KCSO has addressed a number of public safety issues with regard to drugs, traffic fatalities, cooperation with other agencies, professionalism at the sheriff’s office, modernization and crime reduction. For all of these reasons, people who didn’t vote for me in the first election can have a very good reason to vote for my re-election.

David Thomley: I take full responsibility for the last election. I have worked harder than ever this time trying to get my message out to the people. I am reaching out to the citizens of Kershaw County to let them know what I stand for, what I would like to do for them as sheriff of Kershaw County, and I am asking for their support. The residents of Kershaw County need to know that I care about them and their families. The citizens have had the chance to see how things have been under Sheriff Matthews for three and a half years and they understand that while some good things have been accomplished, the sheriff's office must be broad in the area of service. I understand the needs of the people. One need is having their calls for service responded to as quickly as possible while reducing crime, protecting our schools, our children and our senior citizens. Managing the budget and being fiscally responsible for the taxpayers money is a necessity as sheriff.

Q: (For Matthews) What have you not had the chance to implement that you hope to if reelected?

Matthews: I have not had the opportunity to transform the KCSO from a reactive law enforcement agency into a proactive one. Specifically, because we are so understaffed, we basically react to crimes after they have happened. We have little capability to prevent crimes before they happen in many cases. Some crimes, such as homicides, are really not preventable, but others are. Increased patrol activity can reduce property crimes. However, due to a serious shortage of patrol officers, our deputies basically go from call to call all day long, every day. Until funding is made available to simply begin the process of putting more officers on the road, this problem will continue into the future, no matter who the sheriff is. As I have stated many times, the KCSO answers about 45,000 calls a year with five to six deputies per shift. The Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office answers about the same number of calls, in a significantly smaller county with 12 to 15 deputies per shift. They can be proactive; we cannot. I would like very much to begin the process of employing more deputies so that in the future the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office can respond to calls more quickly, spend more time on a call for service, and become a proactive law enforcement agency.

Q: (For Thomley) What would you do differently than Sheriff Matthews during the next four years as sheriff?

Thomley: I will make myself available and accessible to the people. When people want to speak directly to the sheriff, I feel the sheriff should make himself available. I will have a better working relationship with the Kershaw County Equine Center, Kershaw County Council, the 5th Circuit Solicitors Office, and the Kershaw County Magistrates Office. We may have disagreements, but we will handle those disagreements in the proper venue. I will focus less on running radar (the sheriff is not constitutionally mandated to run radar) and more on reducing the crime rate, protecting our schools, and reducing response times.

Q: Council has, to date, been unwilling to provide funds for either additional manpower nor to end the practice of “Chinese overtime.” What ideas do you have that you think could change council members’ minds?

Matthews: I am not sure what can be done to convince council that public safety is a primary function of government. Kershaw County is surrounded by counties with serious gang, drug and violent crime problems. So far, we have been very fortunate not to have those problems to the degree that these counties have them. My fear is that because of our very limited resources we will not be able to deal with the gang, drug and violent crime problems that are continually trying to establish themselves in Kershaw County. We simply cannot allow those issues to gain a foothold in Kershaw County.

The issue of “Chinese overtime” makes it very difficult for us to recruit and retain quality personnel. There are so many areas that have been neglected over the years, that to fix them is now cost prohibitive. It will take some councilmen to make some tough choices and a change in the status quo in thinking. A majority will have to decide that it is better to protect lives over pocketbooks. In the past, the “protect the pocketbooks” mentality has been the guiding sentiment.

Thomley: County council has been unwilling to raise taxes just to increase the size of the sheriff’s office. Sheriff Matthews has repeatedly asked council for a 2-mil increase. I will not ask for council to raise taxes. I do not feel a tax increase is necessary and I do not see the justification for taxpayers who reside in a municipality having their taxes increased just to increase the size of the sheriff’s office. The residents who live inside the city of Camden, town of Elgin and the town of Bethune should not be taxed for a service they do not receive. I will first look to restructure the current employee rooster by removing deputies from the interstate and placing those deputies to patrol within the county. I will also examine why less than 30 percent of the current staff actually patrols the street. I will expand the reserve deputy program.

The Chinese overtime should be done away with and deputies should be paid regular overtime. I will work with county council, but the first step is to provide county council with a more accurate cost per year to fund the overtime. The $500,000 dollar a year request for overtime by Sheriff Matthews is actually about four times the amount it would take to fund overtime for the deputies ($100,000 to $150,000 yearly). The overtime budget must be managed and regulated closely.

Q: Even if manpower and overtime issues were addressed by funding from council, would you reinstate funeral escorts throughout the county? Why or why not?

Matthews: There is a misconception that the KCSO has stopped escorting funerals. We haven’t. What I have done differently is that I will not take on-duty deputies off the road, out of neighborhoods and assign them to escorting a funeral. I also will not force a deputy to come in on his or her day off, away from their family or outside job to escort a funeral. I have made available off duty deputies to escort funerals. Since I will not force a deputy to do this on his or her day off for free, we have implemented a very modest fee of $25 per hour that would be paid to the deputy for this service. Some other counties charge nearly twice that much for their off-duty officers to do this. Other counties have totally stopped this service because of liability reasons.

It takes two officers to safely escort a funeral and there are numerous funerals per day in Kershaw County. The added cost can either be absorbed by the funeral home or they can pass it along to the consumer. It would be totally irresponsible of me to take a deputy or two away from answering calls for service in order to escort a funeral. Most reasonable people totally understand that, especially in light of the fact that at best there are only five to six deputies per shift to answer the high number of calls we have per day.

If county council will fund, with taxpayer dollars, a special funeral escort unit, then that would be another option. However, I doubt that the majority of Kershaw County residents would view that as a wise use of taxpayer dollars.

Thomley: Manpower and overtime have nothing to do with leading or not leading funerals. There is no need to pull off-duty deputies in to work funerals. This is a public service that I feel taxpaying citizens have paid for and are entitled to. Sheriff Matthews was provided with inaccurate information when he first came into office. Deputies, funeral directors, and deceased family members always understood that a deputy might have to pull away from an escort in the event of an emergency call. No deputy was ever called in to work a funeral escort on their day off. As sheriff, I will ensure that we lead funerals for our citizens. This is not just a matter of respect, it is also a safety issue.

Q: (For Matthews) The KCSO has earned multiple awards for DUI enforcement since you became sheriff in 2011. What more would you like to see done in that arena, or is there another area of law enforcement you’d like to beef up the way you did DUI enforcement.

Matthews: The Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office has been recognized by the S.C. Department of Public Safety for three years in a row as Law Enforcement Agency of the Year for DUI Enforcement (for an agency of 51 to 100 employees). This has been accomplished with a six-man unit, two of which are grant funded and the other four of which are not funded by taxpayer dollars. Because this unit is small, it is not able to deploy officers on a 24/7/365 day basis. There are drunk drivers on our roads all day every day all year long. We could reduce even further our DUI related crashes if we had more officers so that we could patrol the county all day, every day.

In addition to the DUI enforcement side, our Traffic Unit targets aggressive, dangerous driving. Our goal is to not necessarily be heavy handed in issuing traffic tickets, but rather to change behavior. With that in mind, we have issued well over 10,000 warning tickets. Not only do these officers work traffic complaints, they have made very significant drug and other contraband seizures, arrested felons and numerous fugitives. Most recently a KCSO traffic officer arrested a fugitive wanted for a murder in Anderson County. These officers were not taken from our regular patrol officer manpower, but were added specifically to work traffic and DUI enforcement.

Q: (For Thomley) The KCSO has earned multiple awards for DUI enforcement since your opponent became sheriff. What do you think of that effort and would you change anything about that effort?

Thomley: No one wants drunk drivers driving on our highways. I will not turn my head to this problem and we will aggressively prosecute drunk drivers. I will work closely with our prosecutors to ensure these cases are won when they go to court. Receiving an award for making DUI arrests is only half of the equation; these cases must be prosecuted successfully.

Q: Keeping an open, productive relationship with the public the sheriff’s office serves is vital in getting and keeping public cooperation and assistance for law enforcement. What might you do as sheriff to improve that relationship?

Matthews: During the past three and a half years we have sponsored community meetings throughout the county where we invite county residents to attend a briefing and to ask questions. KCSO deputies, including myself, address churches, schools, community groups and other organizations throughout the year and provide them with public safety information. The Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office also has a Facebook page where we regularly receive complaints about drugs, traffic problems and other issues that affect our citizens. We also use social media to inform the public about significant arrests and publish scam and other alerts. Keeping the public informed about our law enforcement efforts and successes is important to us and we will continue to do this if I am re-elected.

Thomley: I believe having a productive relationship and the public’s cooperation starts with the sheriff. I will make myself available to the public and I will have an open line of communication with our citizens. I will establish a sheriff's citizen advisory committee made up with citizens from around the county. These individuals will serve as a quality control group; they will review policy, examine any internal investigation, and serve as an oversight capacity.

Q: What is something most residents wouldn’t know about you?

Matthews: When I was in high school I lived in Johannesburg, South Africa for a short time where my parents were missionaries.

Thomley: I grew up an army brat. I have been a varsity football coach at Camden Military for 18 years. I have also helped many of these young men attain their dream of attending and playing college football.

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