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Ukrainian law enforcement educators visit KCSO

Posted: February 25, 2011 3:18 p.m.
Updated: February 28, 2011 5:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

Matthews (second from left) demonstrates to his visitors from the Ukraine how KCSO evidence lockers are used to securely pass items connected to criminal cases into an evidence room. Once an item is secured in a locker, it can only be opened from the inside of the evidence room by the office’s evidence custodian.

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The Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) in Lugoff, South Carolina, is 5,260 miles, or 8,465 kilometers, from Kiev, Ukraine. If the half-dozen men and their two interpreters had taken a direct flight from Kiev, spelled by Ukrainians as Kyiv, the trip would have lasted nine and a half hours.

Igor Koziakov and Mykola Yakymchuk are vice-rectors at the National Prosecution Academy of the Ukraine. Leonid M. Logoyko is chief of the criminal procedure department at Dnipropetrovs’k State University of Internal Affairs. Vyacheslav Navrotskyy is dean of the law faculty at Lviv State University of Inner Affairs. Mykhailo Kostin is a professor at the Security Service of Ukraine National Academy. All hold doctor of law degrees.

They were being shepherded in South Carolina by Steve Yuhas with the Palmetto Council for International Visitors, South Carolina’s branch of the U.S. State Department’s National Council for International Visitors. Both are volunteer community organizations.

“This is our first visit to a sheriff’s office,” one of the men told Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews through an interpreter.

The afternoon began with Matthews telling the professors a little about himself, including the fact he had only been elected six weeks earlier, and about the KCSO.

The interpreters’ voices created a soft undercurrent of sound as they -- nearly simultaneously -- interpreted Matthews’ monologue. They spoke into a small microphone attached to a string of ear buds so they could hear what Matthews had to say in their native Ukrainian. Later, they would ask questions, translated to English so Matthews could answer.

Most of those questions focused on the sheriff’s relationships, whether to other law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, citizens and his own deputies.

Matthews said that while he is the “chief law enforcement officer” in the county, he is beholden to voters and can be arrested by the coroner and removed from office by state and federal authorities. He talked about mutual aid agreements he has signed with other jurisdictions to minimize “turf” battles. Matthews also explained that while he doesn’t report to anyone, his budget is not entirely his own.

“Kershaw County Council holds the purse strings,” Matthews said. “They control the budget, so they have power over us. If they didn’t want to, they could choose not to fund us. There have been situations for some counties where their council didn’t provide enough money and the sheriff sued the county to receive those funds. I hope I never have to do that.”

Matthews explained that he was elected to a four-year term and would have to run for reelection if he wanted to continue as sheriff.

“There aren’t term limits, but in some cases I think there should be,” he said.

The professors asked about the sheriff’s powers, whether or not he could initiate an investigation.

“I hire and fire the investigators and they are trained on conducting investigations,” said Matthews. “They are my representatives and have the same powers and authority I have.”

Of a more succinct interest to the Ukrainian visitors was that there is a separation of duties within the KCSO. Matthews explained that uniformed officers primarily answer calls and are the first responders to criminal complaints. Those deputies in “suits and ties” are investigators and actually conduct investigations or follow up on cases.

New deputies must have four-year college degrees, Matthew said. However, he also said those with prior military or law enforcement experience need only two-year degrees while those already certified as law enforcement officers require a high school diploma.

The professors asked about statistics. With it being a new year and as a new sheriff, Matthews was only able to provide 2010 figures. He said the KCSO answered 32,000 calls for service in 2010, which he called an “extremely high” number.

“Because we’re so short staffed, we’re unable to be proactive to stop crime,” said Matthews.

He said there had been very few murders, with only two -- committed by the same man -- so far in 2011.

“The majority are property crimes -- thefts, car and home break-ins -- and the majority, we believe, are perpetrated by drug abusers. There is a serious drug abuse problem in this county,” he said.

One of the professors went back to Matthews’ ability to hire and fire his own deputies. He asked whether or not Matthews had fired the previous administration’s staff and hired an entirely new set of deputies.

“Several of the (former deputies) quit because they felt certain I was going to fire them,” Matthews admitted. “I fired a number of them because they were so pathetically out of condition and we are still hiring new personnel.”

He said he had put the word out six months prior to taking office -- even before he was elected -- that deputies were going to have to pass a physical training test in order to stay with or be hired by the KCSO.

“Nine of them failed and I didn’t have enough to patrol, so I gave them a one-month extension. When they retested, two of the nine still failed,” Matthews said.

He was asked about his schedule, and said he wakes up at 5 a.m. to go to a gym and work out for more than an hour. Matthews said he is in the office by 6:30 a.m. and attends “meeting after meeting” well past the end of the 5 p.m. work day. For example, that Tuesday he was scheduled to speak at a local high school about law enforcement careers. Matthews said he is home by 8 or 9 p.m. and in bed by 10 p.m. so he can start over again the next morning.

Answering more questions, Matthews said he generally has the weekends free but still gets calls. He also said he has gone out on patrol a few times and plans to do so more often once his new uniform arrives. The county provides him and his commanders vehicles as well as deputy patrol units. Less expensive items can be purchased by the KCSO, but ultimately become county property.

“When we seize narcotics proceeds, we are able to use them for items the county can’t provide,” he said.

The men asked about salaries, including his own. He said deputies now have starting salaries of $31,500. Matthews said his own salary is just under $71,000 a year.

“The sheriff in the next county (Richland County’s Leon Lott) makes almost two times that, but he has a much larger department and many more headaches,” said Matthews. “Most make $10,000 to $15,000 more, but I’m not in it for the money.”

Matthews explained that he earns retirement benefits from his time with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency that “pays the bills.”

In answer to another question, Matthews told the men there is no mandatory age at which he must retire. He can either choose not to run again or be voted out of office.

He was asked again about his relationships with the public.

“We have a very good relationship with the media and they help us get the word out. We’re in the process of starting a Neighborhood Watch program and can alert (citizens) to specific crimes to watch out for,” Matthew said.

He confirmed the KCSO uses paid informants, but they are used within strict legal proscriptions and the amount of money spent on them is “not very much.”

As the men looked ahead to a tour of KCSO headquarters, they asked to see where prisoners are held. Matthews explained that the county jail is a separate facility. He also explained the process by which deputies or investigators have to go before judges to obtain warrants.

“That’s the beginning of our checks and balances,” said Matthews.

The longest discussion with the professors focused on the specialization of units within the KCSO. They wanted to know if Matthews had specialized crime units. The sheriff said the KCSO was too small to have its own forensics (“CSI”) investigators.

“When there’s a murder, we secure the scene and call in the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED),” said Matthews. “Bigger departments -- like the New York Police Department -- have robbery, homicide and sex crimes divisions. Our investigators are trained in obtaining finger prints, tire tracks, foot prints and photographs, but we don’t have the ability to analyze DNA. That’s when we call the people who are experts in that.”

Matthews further explained that the KCSO doesn’t have direct access to a finger print database -- those have to be sent off to SLED or the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). He said a lot of those services are free, while some Internet databases charge fees.

Matthews admitted, though, that SLED and the FBI can take time to process evidence because of backlogs. He said he has an agreement to send some evidence to be analyzed by the Richland County Sheriff’s Department lab for a nominal fee.

“Our budget is a huge issue because of the economy. There are probably some things we would like to do that we can’t afford to do,” said Matthews.

The professors, their interpreters and Yuhas then followed Matthews through the KCSO. They appeared impressed with the way evidence is handled, the KCSO’s interrogation room and enclosed sally port deputies share with the coroner’s office.

“We have learned a lot,” one of the men said through an interpreter.

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