SPRINGFIELD — The Effingham County Sheriff's Office has a wide range of responsibilities. It responds to domestic automobile accidents and all calls for service, plus it plays a role in the civil process, runs the jail and protects the courthouse.
Another major difference between the sheriff and other law enforcement agencies in the county is that it has statewide authority, meaning it can go anywhere in the state and arrest someone.
When asked about the impact the lingering COVID-19 pandemic has had on operations, Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie said, "The coronavirus hasn't gone away. It's just not as prevalent now that the vaccines have come out. We've just now got some court trials opening back up. We've got some jury trials scheduled for this month. We've got some people that have been in jail for four (hundred) or five hundred days. We've got one that's been in there for fifteen hundred and something days. And they're all waiting for trials.
“Misdemeanor offenses are now being bonded out but for those that are going to be with us for a while, we're still doing the protocol with the quarantine and testing before sending them back."
Another impact that the virus has had is that the Sheriff's Office is getting many more domestic violence calls.
McDuffie said, "We're getting slammed with domestic calls now.”
The sheriff also said his deputies are seeing more fentanyl-laced meth coming into the county. In the last few months, there have been several fatal overdoses, he said.
“It's still out there. It's still available,” McDuffie said.
McDuffie mentioned bizarre cases of meth addicts running outside and even to stores while completely naked.
Every county is required by the state constitution to have a sheriff. All the other law enforcement departments are optional.
The sheriff joins the clerk of the court, probate judge and tax collector in constitutionally created offices.
McDuffie is in the budget process he thinks things will be about the same as last year. He said his office has a great working relationship with the Effingham County Board of Commissioners and, more often than not, gets what it needs.
The sheriff said a recent purchase of an X-ray machine has worked out well.
“You would not believe, but people will put things in places that really should not be,” he said.
McDuffie said men and women try to smuggle drugs, contraband, cigarettes and more in their bodies.
The Effingham Sheriff's Office is still trying to get the word out about laws covering motorists passing stopped school busses. They have teamed with a company that put cameras on the school buses to also place speed cameras in school zones. He said that will speeder from tying up an officer in the school zones.
The cameras fire a laser beam that pinpoints the speeding vehicle. The violations are sent to the Sheriff's Office and, once verified, citations are sent out in the mail. This system is due to come online by the start of the next school year.
An increasing volume of traffic is a concern for the sheriff.
“I see our traffic situation as still one of our major problems,” he said. “Our traffic accident volume has just tremendously increased. We’re working wrecks all over the place.”
McDuffie continued, “Traffic in this county has been bad since the '90s when the big move started (more people moving from Chatham into Effingham County)."
He said truck traffic has grown exponentially, increasing traffic problems, especially on the south end of the county due to Port of Savannah business.
Impatient motorists and ATVs being driven on public roads are also troublesome.
McDuffie said residential traffic is also increasing at a fast rate.
"We don't have near enough roads to get people to Savannah that we need,” he said.
McDuffie added that the new TSPLOST and completion of the Effingham Parkway will be a great help to current traffic woes.
Other areas of concern are drugs and gang activity.
McDuffie hired Leslie Dunn last year to determine the severity of the gang issue. She is a community liaison. She is a member of the Georgia Gang Investigators Association with fellow Effingham County Sheriff’s Office members Kris Withem and Richard Beckum.
The number of scam telephone calls have risen during the pandemic, the sheriff said. He urged people just hang up and call the local law enforcement office if they are uncertain if a caller is on the level.