A shortage of sheriff's deputies has hit the Richmond County DUI Task Force hard and the proof is in the numbers.
In 2007, the task force made almost 300 fewer arrests compared to the previous year. The number of accidents with injuries involving DUIs increased by 69 in the same period, according to Sgt. Pete Lamb, the task force supervisor.
Pay and benefits are better elsewhere, he said, citing two deputies who said they took other jobs because of better retirement packages.
He also cites the example of former Deputy Albert Parrish, " a rising star" who appeared on track for promotion. But he left for a security job at Plant Vogtle, the nuclear power facility in Burke County.
"Pay and benefits is what did it," said Sgt. Lamb. "He loved coming to work, but loving what you do doesn't pay the bills and it doesn't look out for your future.
Right now, the task force, which is allotted eight cars, is operating with five. Losing any deputy, especially one such as Deputy Parrish, who won a 2007 Mothers Against Drunk Driving award for having more than 150 DUI arrests, hurts the unit, Sgt. Lamb said.
And new officers are increasingly hard to come by.
The task force draws its deputies from the road patrol, which is dealing with shortages of its own. Sheriff's Maj. Richard Weaver said he is down about 28 deputies. The market for security jobs is hot and with agencies offering better benefits, it's hard to keep people on the road, he said.
"After so many years you want to be able to retire with a decent amount so you can live comfortable and so many other places are offering better retirements," he said.
An appeal this month to ask Augusta's legislative delegation for help never got off the ground.
With about 48 fewer deputies than they need, Col. Gary Powell said the department is taking a wait-and-see approach.
"There isn't much you can do," Col. Powell said. "Everywhere we go we get shot down."
Reach Adam Folk at (706) 823-3339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
2006: 1,810 cases; 8 DUI fatalities; 129 accidents with injuries
2007: 1,511 cases; 7 DUI fatalities; 196 accidents with injuries
Source: Richmond County State Court Solicitor Harold Jones