At a Sept. 10 Fairfield County Council meeting, Chairman David Ferguson relayed concerns a constituent had voiced to him with regard to the number of deputy sheriff’s serving the county.
The constituent from the Greenbrier area said her property had been broken into several times and implied the number of officers patrolling was not sufficient.
Chief Fairfield County Deputy Sheriff Keith Lewis said that while all departments in the state would like to have more resources at their disposal that Fairfield County actually has a high number of sheriff’s deputies patrolling for its population base due to the tax base from the V.C. Summer nuclear station.
According to Chérie Avery, director of finance with the South Carolina Sheriff’s Association, in 2010-11 Fairfield County had 44 deputies on patrol for its 23,956 residents.
When comparing 2010 census data for population, Abbeville County with 25,417 residents was patrolled by just 29 deputies. Jasper County, with 24,777 residents was patrolled by 33 deputies. Edgefield County, with 26,985 residents was patrolled by 31 deputies. Barnwell County with 22,621 residents was patrolled by 24 deputies.
Clarendon County with 34,971 residents was patrolled by 52 deputies. Neighboring Newberry County had 47 deputies on patrol but that county’s population is 37,508. Those extra three deputies are being supported by a population base that is 13,552 people greater than Fairfield. Only 31 deputies patrolled the 28,961 residents of Union County.
Other contiguous counties to Fairfield include Chester with a 33,140 population and 48 deputies, Lancaster with 76,652 residents and 94 deputies, Kershaw with 61,697 residents and 63 deputies and Richland with 384,504 people and 528 deputies on patrol.
Lewis acknowledged that his deputies faced challenges in covering a county Fairfield’s size and population density.
Fairfield County is 686.28 square miles, and according to 2010 census data has 34.9 persons per square mile.
Newberry County, by contrast, is just 630.04 square miles with 59.5 persons per square mile.
Lewis said that with regard to break-ins, the rate of break-ins is about average as the rest of the state; however he estimated that 99 percent of break-ins done in Fairfield County are carried out by persons from outside the county. Local petty larceny cases occur but due to the contiguous location with Richland County, a lot of thieves like to hit around the county lines because there are less police on the county line than on the center.
He acknowledged that his force is doing its best to rotate personnel around and compensate for that demographic trend, particularly with regard to copper theft and air conditioner thefts. 27 units were stolen within the months of August and September and he estimated thieves earn $22 of money from scrap for the $4,000 of property they destroy.
Another challenge is that the majority of domestic violence cases and fights occur near the center of the county.
Lewis acknowledged the difficulty in filling third shift positions and finding certified employees for the rate of pay Fairfield can provide.
“Five years ago we were in line with starting pay and salary but now the county requires either a secondary degree or certification of a deputy,” he said. “In Fairfield, the starting salary is $26,000 compared to $34,000 in Richland, $33,000 in Kershaw and $29,000 in Chester.”
He said that the Fairfield County Sheriff’s deputies work in four 12-hour shifts with five deputies per shift. There are five deputies out on a given day. Five more deputies are required for civil process functions such as courthouse security or serving civil judgments.
Serving the judgments requires a great deal of time and resources devoted to research and locating persons who owe money, with Lewis estimating that 206 papers are served per month.
At present he estimated a 60-80 paper backlog on judgments, something Ferguson said county council would like to look into. Some counties have paralegals on staff to help officers with judgment paperwork, and Lewis noted that officers work on judgments when they are not serving general sessions court, etc. but that the papers are being worked on constantly.
“I probably would be upset if I knew I had papers on a desk for six months and I want Mr. (Phil) Hinely to work with Sheriff (Herman) Young, Deputy Lewis and others to start working on that, because this is a black eye to the county,” Ferguson said.
Between general sessions court, family court and other forms of court, Lewis said court functions are held nearly every week in Fairfield County.
Four deputies are narcotics officers who deal with approximately 13,000 cases per year, according to Lewis.
Five deputies are investigators and two are community officers. There is one training officer and are four school resource officers with the sheriff’s department. Five senior staff officers round out the force, including Young, Lewis, and three captains.
Lewis thanked county council for all the resources and support it provides the department and thanked those willing to take up the call of service to make Fairfield a safe place to work, play and live.