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The silent majority needs to help the sheriff

Posted: March 16, 2017 2:52 p.m.
Updated: March 17, 2017 1:00 a.m.

It’s budget time in Kershaw county and agency heads are required to submit their budget requests to county council. For the past six years I have asked council to approve hiring additional deputies to begin the process of putting sufficient deputies on the road so we can answer calls on a timely basis and actually patrol our neighborhoods and rural areas. My requests have pretty much gone unanswered. The main reason for that is additional deputies will require a tax increase and nobody wants that. 

Below are several factors about which the public needs to be aware:

In 1990, the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office had five deputies working per shift in our county with a population of about 43,000 people. Today, almost 3 decades later with a population of over 65,000 residents, we are able to put only sixdeputies on the road per shift. That is a net gain of one deputy per shift over a 27-year time frame. 

Our calls for service have increased dramatically over the past 27 years. Increased drug use and the problems associated with drug abuse have had a huge impact on our crime rates. Our traffic fatality rate is extremely high as are our traffic complaints. Our responsibilities have increased as well. We now deploy eight deputies as school resource officers. Four deputies provide security at the Kershaw County courthouse and five deputies serve civil process. Those 17 deputies do not patrol our county, but they serve in critical, constitutionally mandated positions. 

We have 10 deputies assigned to criminal investigations, five to narcotics and six to traffic and DUI enforcement. Narcotics and traffic are the only divisions within the Sheriff’s Office that are in any way proactive. Some have suggested the traffic officers stop working traffic. That can’t be done. The county will not fund them if they are not working traffic and we will lose those officers altogether.

Every year our manpower requests are basically kicked down the road to be addressed at a later time and every year something “more important” comes up and we get no more deputies. In the meantime, our response times are unacceptably long, our calls for service are increasing, we are seeing an increase in gang-related criminal activity and the demands for training and accountability are ever increasing.

We ask ourselves daily, just how bad do things have to get before our county council steps up to the plate and makes some tough budgetary decisions? How bad does the crime rate have to be? How bad does the gang problem have to get?

There is always a very vocal small group of citizens who attend council meetings who are against any kind of tax increase for virtually any reason. They seem to be the driving force behind the no new taxes mindset of some of our councilmen. The general public needs to realize our need for more deputies is critical.

Let me digress for a moment. I would be remiss if I didn’t show my appreciation for the pay increase that council approved last year. That allowed us to retain deputies we were losing at an alarming rate. The modernization of our department has also been increased through very conservative and appropriate fiscal belt tightening and I have yet to go over my budget.

The logical question now is, “How are we to fix this and much is it going to cost?” First year costs for one new deputy. Including salary, benefits, patrol car, equipment, fuel, etc. is about $118,000. That cost goes down for the next 3-4 years to around $68,500 per deputy per year because we don’t have to purchase a patrol car every year. After 3-4 years the cost goes back up when we do have to replace a high mileage patrol vehicle. 

I have asked council to authorize the hiring of four fully equipped deputies at a total initial cost of $471,771.40. As previously stated, that cost will go down to a total of $273,967.40 over the next three to four years. Those deputies will be assigned to our patrol division and will give us seven deputies per shift. That should reduce response times to some degree. It should also allow deputies to actually patrol some of our neighborhoods that have been hit with numerous burglaries and car break-ins. 

Our goal is to catch thieves before they break in and steal, not after. And of great importance to me is officer safety. Officers frequently have to answer dangerous calls alone, without the protection of a back-up officer nearby. One additional deputy per shift will begin to address that problem.

Our current millage rate brings in about $215,000 per mil. A 1 mil tax increase on a primary home valued at $100,000 would result in a $4 annual increase. Therefore, the first year cost of hiring four deputies for a person who owns a $100,000.00 home would be about $9 per year or 75 cents a month. Subsequent years would cost that homeowner about $6 per year or about 50 cents per month. That’s a small price to pay in today’s climate of increased violence and crime.

I need your help. County council members constantly hear from those who don’t support the hiring of additional deputies. They need to hear from those who do. If you are in the silent majority that wants to undo 27 years of neglect, contact your county councilman. Their telephone numbers are listed publicly on the Kershaw County website www.kershaw.sc.gov.

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