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Letter to the Editor

Writer seeks study on need of additional deputies

web posted June 2, 2007
Dear Editor,

Sheriff Dobey requested the addition of 14 deputies for road patrol in the FY 07-08 budget and the County Council has indicated that 4 deputies will be approved contingent upon a grant that will pay a portion of the new deputies' salaries over 3 years with the county paying their full salary from the fourth year on.  The Sheriff justifies the requested dramatic increase in staffing because of the number of calls his department responds to on a daily basis.
The main function of a county government is to protect the health and safety of its citizens.  Therefore an appropriately staffed Sheriff's Department that is competitively compensated should be a top priority in the budget. The staff should have all equipment needed to help ensure their safety as they perform their duties and the staffing levels should be such that the deputies have time to have a life outside of work and enjoy their families.

It is understood the Sheriff employs 32 full time employees including at least 10 road deputies, one part time employee, 9 dispatchers and 16 jail employees.  To add 14 deputies to the 32 full time staff already on the payroll requires more justification than saying the department responds to a certain number of events. Your recent report about how busy the department is was enlightening but a fuller context is needed in order to determine at what level the Sheriff's department should be staffed.
The South Carolina Association of Counties published a "2007 Wage and Salary Report" in December 2006.  Edgefield County data is reported in Group 4, counties having a population of less than 25,000, based upon the 2000 Census data, along with 10 other counties.  All county residents should review this document as it is the one objective study found that puts our county in economic context with the rest of the counties in South Carolina. 

The average percentage of full time commissioned law enforcement officers in relation to full time county staff for Group 4 is reported in this document to be 14.3%.  Assuming the 32 full time employees on the Sheriff's staff are commissioned officers, the present percentage for Edgefield County is 23%.  If 14 deputies are added, the percentage will rise to 31%.  Thus, the Sheriff's department appears to be well staffed compared with other counties in South Carolina on the basis of population and if the Sheriff is authorized to hire an additional 14 deputies, it would appear to be very well staffed.  What is not known is the size of the other 10 counties in Group 4 of the study as coverage area needs to be taken into account in determining staffing levels. 
What would help in justifying such a large increase in staffing is more detailed data in regard to the metrics used by the Sheriff in tracking the performance of his department. Needed responses alone do not inform as to how the department is performing.  For example, data tracking responses and response times over the last few years as well as projections as to how additional hiring at various levels will affect these values would be relevant in determining whether the Sheriff needs additional staff and if so, how many new employees. 

It would also be helpful for the Sheriff to establish how law enforcement is administered in counties in South Carolina of similar size and population in terms of budget, staffing, responses, response times, community outreach programs etc. It may be that Edgefield County has special law enforcement needs such as an inordinate number of drug cases, domestic violence cases etc. compared with similar counties that would justify an increase in resources. 

Such a study may show that Edgefield County needs to provide more resources (tax dollars) to the Sheriff's Department or it might show that the department can wring more efficiency out of its existing resources or, as is often the case, the best solution is found in the middle.  There may be a sheriff's or law enforcement organization that can study our department and make suggestions in this regard.
If additional deputies are truly needed, the County Council should provide the needed positions. However, it does not appear that such a determination can be made at this time on the facts that are publicly available.
Bill Smith


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