Sheriff says he needs more men, more money to protect county

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, slyles@newsandpress.net

In 1993, when Sheriff Tony Chavis began his career as a trooper with the Highway Patrol, his starting pay roughly matched that of a present-day Darlington County deputy. Now, 26 years later, prices have gone up on everything, but a deputy’s starting salary has not kept pace.

Chavis hopes to change that by asking the county to budget for pay increases this year.

“These men and women put their lives on the line every day. We need to pay them, reward them with a good starting salary and pay increases for longevity,” he says.

In 2017, a deputy’s starting salary was $26,547; now it is $28,621. But that’s before deductions and fringe costs cut that down to $17,859, meaning that a deputy with a spouse and a child earns 14 percent below the U.S. poverty level. Chavis says this is unacceptable.

To that end, he has proposed a step increase that would boost deputies’ salary over $30,000, keeping DCSO in step with pay offered by police departments in Hartsville and Darlington. Chavis notes that young officers come to DCSO, require an investment of at least $50,000 for training and equipment, and often leave within three years for higher-paying jobs with other law enforcement agencies.

“We also have fewer officers to respond to incidents. Where you might see three or four officers at an incident in the cities, we may only have two working our scenes,” says Chavis. “Over the past three years, we’ve averaged 26,000 calls for service each year. Our coverage area, not counting the cities, is about 555 square miles, but we also provide backup for Hartsville and Darlington and we cover Society Hill and Lamar as well.”

He says that based on the population of Darlington and Hartsville, which have just over 25 and 30 officers, respectively, DCSO should have over 200 officers. They have 73. His proposal requests an additional five deputy positions, which would allow 10 patrol personnel per shift.

The approximate total salary increase request for DCSO is $490,145, including fringe benefits.

Keeping the W. Glenn Campbell Detention Center fully staffed and compliant with federal PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act) standards is another problem Chavis hopes to address. Officers working at the county jail receive a starting salary of $25,766, which the sheriff believes is far below what they’re worth.

His budget proposal states that 51 out of 53 salaried Detention Center positions pay at or below the federal poverty guidelines, based on a stated average of three dependents. He wants to bump starting salary to $27,698, with bumps to $29,083 after three years and $30,537 after five years.

“They put their safety in jeopardy every day. They get assaulted, have human waste thrown at them, and they’re locked up in that building with some dangerous people,” Chavis says. “I’m asking for a salary increase for them, too, because right now they can leave and go to someplace like Lee Correctional and make $10,000 more a year.”

The approximate total salary increase request for the W. Glenn Campbell Detention Center is $326,377, including fringe benefits.

Chavis says he would also like to see Darlington County reward longevity and loyalty for long- term employees by offering to pay insurance premiums for retired workers until they reach Social Security age.

“There are a lot of people who want to remain in Darlington County and work their whole careers here, but we have to make it possible for them to make a living. If they stay on for several years or longer, we’ll have more seasoned and experienced officers answering the call, and that’s better for everyone,” says Chavis.

Chavis says that he will not ask for a pay increase for himself, that it’s “up to County Council whether they think I deserve a pay raise or not,” but he will continue to press for higher salaries for his officers.

The sheriff is not alone in this quest. At Darlington County Council’s Feb. 4 meeting, citizens Kim Gardner, Brian Atkinson and Richie Stevens asked council to consider increasing the DCSO budget so that additional patrol deputies can be hired.

Gardner said the crime rate is steadily increasing in her Pine Ridge community, and the DCSO doesn’t seem to have enough deputies to patrol and combat the problem. Atkinson offered his time as a citizen volunteer and wondered if it would help if fellow residents bought security cameras to help identify suspects and vehicles. He said it seemed the DCSO is currently “overrun” with the number of crimes in the county.

Stevens started a Facebook page where citizens can share information about local crimes, and he said the prevailing concern among posters is whether the DCSO has enough deputies and investigators to handle the workload.

Though Chavis says he has no affiliation with the Facebook group and did not request these citizens speak to council, he says he shares their concerns and is glad they came forward.

“This is something we need for the safety and security of our citizens. They need it, and they’re demanding it,” says Chavis.

Darlington County Council has scheduled its first work session to discuss the fiscal 2019/20 budget for Feb. 18 at 10 a.m. in the Darlington Raceway Media Center.

Author: Rachel Howell

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