COLUMBIA, S.C. - The State Law Enforcement Division plans to give hundreds of South Carolina sheriff deputies more authority to fight gangs, track criminals and combat drug violators as state agencies struggle with severe budget cuts.
SLED director Reggie Lloyd announced the agreement in Columbia Thursday, saying the pact would be the right thing to do even if law enforcement agencies were flush with funds.
"Bad guys do not respect, nor care about, county lines and municipal lines," Lloyd said. "This is about sharing the authority that we have."
Lloyd said state law enforcement officials have been hemmed in by "archaic" practices that required SLED involvement in things that could be handled by local officials, such as enforcing alcohol sale laws or dealing with underage drinking violations.
Under the new agreement, local sheriff's deputies will be trained and sworn in as state constables, allowing them to handle a variety of duties that have been SLED responsibilities.
"It allows us to do our jobs better. It's just something that needed to be done," said Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott.
Lott said law enforcement organizations must share resources and expertise rather than duplicate efforts. At least 100 of his officers will participate in the training and be deputized, he predicted.
Lott said the cooperation will expedite gang investigations, allow for improved fugitive searches across jurisdictional lines and help in drug interdiction.
The training will be "up and running within several weeks," predicted Jeff Moore, executive director of the South Carolina Sheriffs Association. The association represents the state's 46 sheriff departments and some 3,500 officers.
"In strict budgetary times ... we have to look at ways to pool our resources," said Aiken County Sheriff Michael Hunt. "This is a good thing and we are very excited about it."
SLED spokeswoman Jennifer Timmons said the agency's budget has been cut $6 million, or 17 percent, since the summer.
In December, Lloyd said the budget cuts had forced him to eliminate 40 jobs, or about 7 percent of SLED's total staff. The director added that he had frozen hiring and overtime and restricted agents' car use when they weren't working.