The Effingham County Sheriff’s Department is complying with a grand jury’s recommendation to improve the jail, Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie told county commissioners last week.
“I think we’re getting pretty close to what they wanted,” he said. “They’ve been pretty happy.”
The sheriff’s department has been housed in its current office, which also has the jail, for nearly 14 years. Problems with the building have lingered and the grand jury last year asked the commissioners to address problems with the building and also with deputies’ pay.
“We’ve got to do something with that building,” McDuffie said.
There are two problems with the jail, McDuffie said. One is poor construction and the other is bad maintenance.
“We found an exhaust fan that hadn’t worked in years,” he said.
Engineers also showed McDuffie pipes that were about to burst, he said. Another concern is the apparent lack of a maintenance manual for the jail.
“There was a book that was supposed to be handed to Sheriff (Van) Findley, but nobody’s ever seen it,” McDuffie said.
The sheriff also asked commissioners for four more employees, including a detective dedicated to finding and tracking sex offenders, but commissioners, looking to cut back on a proposed $30 million budget, asked McDuffie to reconsider.
“I don’t want to give up that deputy, but I will if it helps me keep that detective,” McDuffie said. “We need that detective. We’re going to end up with a Glynn County incident if we don’t start,” referring to the alleged abduction and murder of a 6-year-old boy in Brunswick by a convicted sex offender.
McDuffie has 88 full-time and part-time employees, with 25 deputies out on the road. He also has 20 officers devoted to the courthouse, since security for that building falls under his perview. State laws regarding the operation of superior court require that the sheriff’s department have an officer who can move back and forth with a jury from the courtroom to their deliberations room.
Also, the workload in Effingham County courts has escalated.
“They’re having two to three times more court than we’ve had before,” McDuffie said.
The sheriff’s department also provides school resource officers to the Effingham County Board of Education. The cost for the program is about $237,000 a year, with each resource officer costing the county from $45,000 to $49,000 annually in salary, benefits and vehicle expenses. There are five SROs, one for each middle and high school.
“The superintendent was very interested in this program continuing,” County Administrator Ed Williams said.
But commissioners wondered about the cost and how much of it was the school board’s responsibility. McDuffie said the school board hasn’t been picking up its part of the tab for the SROs because it claimed it hadn’t been invoiced.
They also work during the summer as regular patrol officers.
“They are concentrated on the subdivisions,” McDuffie said.
McDuffie said nearly every car is driven home by deputies, with the exception of the special operations car. About 10 to 12 deputies live outside Effingham County, according to the sheriff.
Commissioner Hubert Sapp said Chatham County deputies who live outside the county leave the county’s cars at the county line and drive their personal vehicles home from there. McDuffie said making that a stipulation would be costly.
“They could park at the sheriff’s office and pick up their car there, but we’d have to give them $5,000-$7,000 a year more,” he said.
The sheriff added that one of the SROs lives as far away as Liberty County. McDuffie said that as far as he knew, the deputies who took cars home weren’t using them for personal trips.
“I can assure you they are,” Sapp countered.
McDuffie said if Sapp could provide a vehicle number, “it’ll stop.”
The sheriff also said that the department’s new cars have cameras and GPS tracking devices.
“We can tell where those cars are at,” he said.
Sheriff’s cars racked up 1 million miles on the road last year patrolling the county, McDuffie said. OMI has been the service contractor for county vehicles, but that contract will expire at the end of the month and county officials expressed dissatisfaction with the service provided. In the new contract that is going out for bid, the county has put in performance standards.
County staff also reduced the number of guns the sheriff’s department wanted to purchase next fiscal year. Williams said that cost should be spread over a number of years. Deputies need to qualify every year on their weapons, McDuffie said, and their current arsenal is in bad shape.
“Some of our guns are falling apart,” he said. “They’re 13 years old. Right now, we have about half our department needing guns. The Colt government models are about the best made, but time and shooting and shooting them has worn them out.”
McDuffie said prior purchases of weapons for the department had not been phased in over time.
“It had been put on the back burner, and now the back burner is overloaded,” he said.
The sheriff said he wanted to do what he could to help the commissioners’ budget plight.
“I wish I had it to give it to you,” McDuffie said. “But I don’t know where it’s coming from.”