Candidates for Pickens County Sheriff were asked to respond to the following questions:
1. What is your recommendation to address the overcrowding issue with the detention center?
2. How does an agency such as the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office decrease crime in the community?
3. In your opinion what is the biggest issue the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office face and what is your proposed solution?
4. What is your position on community relations and what/if any role does it play in crime prevention, detection and prosecution?
Rick Clark — Incumbent
We need to continue down the path that we have been on since we started the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee in 2013. This brings all elements of the criminal justice system in Pickens County to the table. We have been able to work with our partners to at least hold the jail population the same or lower. We work with other agencies like the Solicitor’s Office, Public Defender’s Office and our sitting Circuit Court Judge to get people moved through the criminal justice system as fast as we can. We need help in the form of the State of SC providing more solicitors, public defenders, and supporting the SC Department of Mental Health so that people in need of psychiatric examinations can be seen sooner and go to an institution instead of our jails.
Again, I think we need to continue the path that we are on now of going after drug dealers (predominately meth) and users. These are the people who are creating the demand for crime in this county. AS you have seen since April 2014, we have locked up 110 people on 192 charges just on special operations. This does not include our day to day operations with units like the Community Action Team who have made over 360 drug related cases. We are now seeing a drop in our overall crime rate. Since we took office in 2013 the overall crime rate has dropped 7.5 percent.
The jail is our biggest obstacle to tackle. There have been very positive developments in assessing where we need to go with the jail and what will be the best path forward. The Administrator hired an architectural firm to assist in planning and starting the longer-term plans for what we need. It is imperative that we plan for the future and do it right because this is a monumental project and the more we put into pre-planning the more tax dollars we will save in the future. We are also working with our criminal justice partners to bring down the jail population by getting people through the justice system more efficiently.
We have worked hard to build community relations across the county on such projects as Neighborhood Watches, Community Forums with the African-American community and safety presentations across the county. We do believe that people being involved in their community does affect crime. Our neighborhood watches are getting people involved in their community and are being more aware of what is going on around them and that can only be positive.
Tim Morgan — Challenger
A new facility is a multi-year effort involving many stakeholders. They will have to build trust with one another, which is totally lacking with the current sheriff because of his political grandstanding. The stakeholders must work together to make a business decision, rather than a political one. Some immediate action is required for officer and inmate safety, and I think a “best available option” determination could be reached by exploring off-site housing for nonviolent offenders. I would also support the Council adding additional personnel to the Solicitor’s and Public Defender’s Offices, which would provide more judicial resources to help relieve some of the overcrowding issues. A committee headed by Clark is in place but has not met since November, 2015. Bringing the interested parties together on a regular basis to hammer out the best course of action is absolutely necessary. It’s easier to get to your destination if you know where you are going.
Basic police work has not changed over the years, and it consists primarily of interacting with people. The citizens have always been the eyes and ears of law enforcement. A renewed focus on customer service is needed at PCSO. There should also be additional interactions between law enforcement and social agencies to help people reestablish their lives. It’s all about cooperation and communication within the community and among agencies, without concern for who gets the credit. Good police tactics, encouraging deputies to show initiative and think outside the box in their respective areas, and two-way sharing of information with all concerned is essential. Prevention efforts should start in elementary school, where some studies have shown that just one strong positive relationship in a child’s life can have significant influence in brain development. I have proposed a pilot volunteer program using retired law enforcement, public safety, military, and other professionals to foster those relationships.
The most frequent concern I hear is about the number of lives destroyed by drug abuse, largely methamphetamine. If an impact can be made on reducing meth use through both early prevention and drug treatment options, there will be a corresponding decrease in crime. Primarily, however, most citizens who report “lots of traffic” at a residence, or “smelling something unusual,” want the problem resolved then. They don’t care if a lengthy undercover investigation results in additional arrests next year. A visible, devoted law enforcement presence, diligent investigation, and consistent follow up with the complainants can have a very positive impact on the problem. I will reinstate the “special investigator” slot at the Sheriff’s Office to help deal with ongoing problems in the community, and will revamp and reorganize the Special Operations Division to make it more effective in combating the drug problem in Pickens County.
Positive community relations are essential to the success of any law enforcement agency. The trust and confidence of the citizens are vital so that dependable information comes to the deputies in a timely fashion. Because of this, the culture within the Sheriff’s Office has to change to become more “customer service” oriented throughout the agency. Those who go into law enforcement generally do so because of a desire to help others. They are good people who need the right leadership to allow them to most effectively do their jobs, not someone who just hands the reins off to someone else. We all recognize the difference in service levels at certain grocery and fast food establishments. “Service level” drives the business, and customer attitudes about the business. It is no different for a law enforcement agency. Law enforcement is about the people business, and while technology is useful, it is people who solve crimes.
Information for this story compiled by D. C. Moody.