SPRINGFIELD — Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie said that COVID-19 has impacted just about everything the Effingham County Sheriff’s Office does.
He said deputies don’t reach into car or even touch a drivers’ license when they make a traffic stop. Even courthouse matters are handled by computers as often as possible.
Most misdemeanor suspects are booked and released as soon as possible and anyone who has to be taken in to jail is quarantined.
A prisoner’s temperature is taken at the jail and a CDC questionnaire is answered. If necessary, then they are then quarantined and checked by their nurse.
McDuffie said shelter-in-place orders due to COVID-19 caused an increase in one type of crime.
He said, “We’re getting slammed with domestic calls now. They’re with people they don’t like anymore.”
The sheriff also said he and his deputies are seeing more fetanayl-laced meth coming into the county.
“It’s causing the (users) to be absolutely crazy,” McDuffie said.
One male meth user jumped in front of a moving truck and another leapt through a car window. A female died with a bag of the illegal drug in her hand.
A sheriff’s office is different than all the other law enforcement agencies in Georgia. The are constitutionally created. The positions of clerk of the court, probate judge, and tax collector are also mandated in the state constitution.
Every county is required to have a sheriff in the county. All the other law enforcement departments are optional.
McDuffie said he is proud of the relationship he has with the Effingham County Board of Commissioners. He said both parties try to meet in the middle for what his office’s needs and funding are.
One of the primary jobs of the sheriff is to be the chief jailer for the county. He said that includes taking care of inmates’ health and well being, and keeping them from escaping.
In Effingham County, the sheriff’s office also handles automobile wrecks, crimes and other calls for service, the civil process and courthouse security.
Another major difference between the sheriff’s office and other county law enforcement agencies is that it has statewide authority, meaning it can go anywhere in the state and arrest someone.
McDuffie is quick to say, however, that when his office needs to take action in another jurisdiction it always calls for local backup or to make sure officials there are aware.
The Effingham Sheriff’s Office is still trying to get the word out about laws covering motorists passing stopped school buses. McDuffie said that most of the violations occur on four-lane highways with a center turn lane. The original ordinance said there had to be a physical barrier between the opposing lanes for an incoming vehicle to not be required to stop but there was confusion about what could be considered a physical barrier.
In Rincon, for instance, with its five lanes of traffic on Ga. Hwy 21, if a school bus stops, oncoming traffic must also stop.
An increasing volume of traffic through the county is also a major concern of the sheriff’s office.
McDuffie said,” It’s not going to get any easier getting in and out of here until we get the (Effingham Parkway) built.”
The parkway will give motorists a parallel alternative to Ga. Hwy 21. Georgia Department of Transportation Engineer Meg Pirkle recently said, “We plan on construction to begin in a year and a half or so.”
With Port of Savannah-related industries moving warehouses to Effingham County, more trucks are destined to be on the roads. That’s not the only reason for additional extra congestion, however.
“We’re fixing to build about 2,000 new homes in two of our big subdivisions which is going to put that much more traffic on the roads,” the sheriff said. “You figure 2,000 homes, two people to a house — that’s 4,000 more cars that are fixing to be on the highway.”
McDuffie reminds people that a referendum for transportation tax (TSPLOST) will be on the ballot in the next few months. The one-percent tax would generate $42 million for roads and related projects over a five-year period.
“If people don’t vote for it, if they vote it down, it’s going to hurt us tremendously,” McDuffie said. “If they will vote for it and support it, I think it can help us move forward with widening some of our roads, adding some additional roads and just help us relieve some of our problem.”
Other areas of concern for McDuffie are drugs and gang activity. The drug problem doesn’t involve opioids, he said.
McDuffie said he has hired Leslie Dunn as a community liaison to look into the gang issue in an effort to determine the depth of it. Dunn is a member of the Georgia Gang Investigators Association and worked for the Savannah Police Department.
Effingham County has been assisting neighboring counties in this area as well, McDuffie said.
The sheriff warned the public against scams. The pandemic seems to be increasing that problem.
McDuffie pointed out one that uses law enforcement as a guise. He said no law enforcement is going to call someone and tell them to send a Green Dot card or gift card to take care of a legal infraction.
He said scams are on the rise and his office hears about them every week, including fake credit card readers on gas pumps.
When asked what major issues are facing the county, the sheriff said, “I see our traffic situation is still one of our major problems. We don’t have the infrastructure built and put in place to handle the magnitude of what we’re going to see on the influx of the ports.”