Originally created 07/12/98

Sheriff wants more deputies on staff



GLOVERVILLE -- The road comes first.

Deputies can serve warrants and handle calls for service on the telephone, but the most important thing is to stay on the road, where they can respond to emergencies, explained Aiken County Sheriff's Deputy Josh Yerace.

Calls can stack up quickly, especially at night when everyone comes home from work, he says, speaking above the squawk of his squad car's radio. His territory is referred to as zones two and three, which cover the Midland Valley.

Even on a Thursday afternoon, routine calls come one after the other, each one taking the deputy about 10 minutes. All of which keep the deputy off the road.

It's no wonder. Aiken County Sheriff's Office deputies arguably have a higher work load than any other police force in the county. Sheriff Howard Sellers says this contributes to a higher turnover rate in his department.

According to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Census for 1997, the sheriff's office serves a population of 1,583 per officer. By comparison, the statewide average population served by a single sheriff's deputy was 1,173.2.

The Aiken Department of Public Safety serves a population of 277 per officer. North Augusta serves 367 people. The state average for public safety departments was 253.6.

The result is deputies often get stacked up with calls -- having several calls for service in waiting whenever they respond to a call, Mr. Sellers said.

As a result, during the fiscal year that ended June 30, the sheriff's office lost two investigators, one officer who works with juveniles and 14 uniformed officers, according to Aiken County records.

The previous fiscal year it lost one narcotics officer and nine unformed officers. In fiscal year 1996, it lost one narcotics officer, one investigator, two officers who work with juveniles and three uniformed officers. The Aiken County Sheriff's Office has a total of about 90 officers.

The Aiken Department of Public Safety has lost two officers so far this year, three officers during calendar year 1997 and three during 1996, according to Capt. Richard Abney.

The North Augusta Department of Public Safety has lost only three officers a year for the past three years, said department chief Lee Wetherington.

Law enforcement agencies will spend an average of about $50,000 on testing, certification, training and supervising a new officer before that officer even hits the street, Mr. Sellers said.

Counties don't generally see a return on their investment until the officer's third year of employment, so if the officer leaves before the third year, the county has a net loss, he said.

Patrol officers tend to leave in search of higher salaries and better working conditions, he said. The Aiken County Sheriff's Office starts deputies off at an annual salary of about $22,000, or more depending on the deputy's training.

The North Augusta Department of Public Safety starts officers at $27,500. The Aiken Public Safety Department starts officers at $23,442.

As for Deputy Yerace, 24, he has no family to support, and plans to stay with the sheriff's office long enough to get into investigations. But his ultimate career goals are elsewhere. He's set his sights on the Drug Enforcement Agency or the Secret Service.

Sheriff Sellers went before the Aiken County Council in May to ask for money to hire additional deputies. He had asked for 19 more full-time positions and two part-time positions in his budget proposal. When the county budget was finished, he was given none.

County Administrator Bill Shepherd said the sheriff's office needs additional personnel, but there just weren't sufficient funds in this year's budget.

"We did not have the revenue growth we've had in previous years," he said. "There's no arguing they have additional resources requests."

Comparing turnover rates between law enforcement agencies statewide is difficult because of their diversity of size and scope. Jeff Moore, executive director of the South Carolina Sheriffs' Association, estimated statewide turnover between 20 and 23 percent.

The ideal amount of turnover for an agency is about 10 percent, Sheriff Sellers said.

"We'll be very happy running somewhere in the teens," he said. "We'll probably never hit the target of 10 percent.

"Sometimes we're a training agency, but we hope to lose that distinction someday," he said.

The North Augusta Department of Public Safety has hired deputies from the Aiken County Sheriff's Office. But they also hire from Richmond and Columbia counties, too, said Chief Wetherington.

"We don't go recruiting from them. If they decide to put in an application, we're an equal opportunity employer," he said.