Sheriff: County is outgrowing the sheriff's department

DORCHESTER COUNTY, S.C. (WCIV) -- Dorchester County L.C. Knight says the current state of public safety is in danger because its resources are spread too thin across the 500-square mile county.

For the last five years, Knight has watched his jurisdiction grow by leaps and bounds. Knight says the same needs to happen within his department in order to keep up with the growth.

"Seems like the growth is outgrowing the ability to keep up with the growth as far as finances," said Sheriff Knight.

Knight says he oversees 285 employees including deputies, court and jail security and 911 dispatchers. He says at the rate the county is growing, it will soon outgrow the ability of his employees.

Knight is asking Dorchester County council for an additional $448,000 in next year's budget to hire four new deputies, two 911 dispatchers and a host of other security and administrative positions, including transitioning some positions from part-time to full-time.

"I think there are nine people that work in court security," said Knight. "Whenever they were put in their position to provide court security for the magistrate's court and general sessions court, it was classified as part time positions. Well, back then you had court once every five, six weeks. Now, we have it every day."

Knight says ideally, he wants 16 deputies on the road per shift. But with sick leave, vacation and training, the sheriff's office can have as few as eight or nine per shift.

"On any given shift, I've got 13 assigned to every shift. That's 13 assigned to cover roughly a 90,000-person population outside of any municipalities, about 530 square miles," he said.

Knight says a growing population also means a growth in 911 calls.

"I think it was somewhere around 197,000 in total calls went through that dispatch center this past year. One hundred and nine thousand of those calls were for the sheriff's office," said Knight.

For now, Dorchester County has four dispatchers per shift. On a busy day, Knight says his dispatchers have to put calls on hold until they catch up.

"Sometimes I worry that we are going to stack a call that maybe my dispatcher or my supervisor didn't get all the information they needed and they individual is out there in some sort of danger and we don't know about it," Knight said.

Since 2009, Dorchester County has dealt with state budget cuts. If the same is approved for fiscal year 2014-2015, the county will lose $5 million. Knight says he understands what county council is up against and hopes something can be done sooner than later.

"At some point in time, we have to cut services, raise taxes or something. You can't keep the quality up and not grow with the growth that's coming in Dorchester County," said Knight.