Burnettown's borders a main concern for police

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Boundaries are a matter of opinion along the Aiken-Augusta Highway.

Police Chief David Smith is one of two full-time officers in Burnettown, which also relies on the help of volunteer officers.   Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Zach Boyden-Holmes/Staff
Police Chief David Smith is one of two full-time officers in Burnettown, which also relies on the help of volunteer officers.

Among the communities along the road that runs parallel to U.S. Highway 1 in Aiken County are North Augusta, Warrenville, Graniteville, Gloverville, Clearwater and Burnettown.

Burnettown is incorporated, but Police Chief David Smith still runs into trouble establishing his jurisdiction.

One of his first acts as chief was to move an incorrect city limits sign on U.S. 1. Some accused him of illegal annexation, but Smith was just trying to avoid the old Catch-22 of policing.

"If we go somewhere where we don't belong, we'll get sued," he said. "If we don't go somewhere where we do belong, we'll get sued."

That's just one of the challenges that come with policing the third-largest municipality in Aiken County with two full-time officers -- including Smith.

Burnettown was established in 1941 out of necessity. The taxis -- and formerly the trolleys -- traveling between Aiken and Augusta needed a halfway spot to pick up customers. The land owned by Daniel Burnette met requirements, so they purchased it and named the town after him.

Instead of relying on taxes, Burnettown operated on business license "fees" and funds designated by the state legislature. This situation worked during plentiful years, but budget cuts have whittled down the state designation from $135,000 to just $52,000 this year, Smith said.

As chief, Smith has a set list of expenses and revenue, but his department is paid directly from the general fund. Burnettown has always had some form of police protection since its incorporation, with the exception of a few months in 2005, when the chief retired and his officers walked out with him.

Realistically, though, two full-time officers can only police part time, so a mutual aid agreement with the Aiken County Sheriff's Office allows them to answer calls within city limits.

Reserve officers also volunteer. Smith usually assists in the paperwork if they make an arrest so the reserves don't have to sit in court waiting to testify.

Smith, who started at North Augusta Public Safety in 1998, enjoys community policing. The usual range of crime is present, from larcenies and burglaries to drunken brawls. The rural character of the town doesn't mean less danger; Smith and his officers wear bulletproof vests and carry pepper spray and stun guns. Smith has used his TASER twice since 2006; it's more of a deterrent than something used regularly, he said.

Burnettown carries a reputation as a speed trap, which Smith doesn't discourage if it will slow down drivers. But law enforcement from different agencies catch speeders and drivers are just looking at the blue lights, not the emblem on the cruiser's door, Smith said.

As for the troublesome boundary, there is talk of rolling back city limits to pre-1998 levels. It's a "de-annexation" if you will. Smith encourages the idea.

"It should be interesting," he said.

Burnettown police:

Full-time officers: 2

Fiscal 2011 budget: $52,000

about this series:

Small town police departments might not grab as many headlines as their big city counterparts, but the job carries the same challenges and dangers. In honor of May's National Police Week, The Augusta Chronicle profiles five area small town departments.

MAY 2: Harlem

MAY 9: Hephzibah

TODAY: Burnettown

MAY 23: New Ellenton

MAY 30: Blythe

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TK3
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TK3 05/16/11 - 08:11 am
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In the light that Burnettown

In the light that Burnettown is known for it past Boss Hog type tactics (with COG's help) trying to annex areas around them, being considered a speed trap is a step up.

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