SPRINGFIELD — The Effingham County Sheriff's Office is different than all other Effingham County-based law enforcement agencies in that it is a constitutionally created organization.
In Georgia, there are only four offices written into the state constitution — the clerk of the court, probate judge, the tax collector and the sheriff. Every county is required by the constitution to have a sheriff in the county. All other law enforcement departments are optional.
Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie said that he is proud of the relationship he has with the Effingham County commissioners. He said they try to meet in the middle for what his office needs and the funding for them.
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, keeping them secure and safe, and keep them from escaping.
The Effingham County Sheriff's Office handles domestic calls, automobile wrecks, all calls for service, runs the jail, courthouse security and the civil process.
Another major difference between the sheriff and other law enforcement agencies in the county is that he and his deputies have the authority to go anywhere in the state and arrest someone. McDuffie is quick to say, however, that when they do need to take action in another jurisdiction they always call for local backup or to make sure they are aware.
Traffic calls make up the majority of sheriff office calls and domestic violence calls make up the second largest-group of responses in the county.
Another area that seems to be growing fast is suicide calls — especially among teenagers. McDuffie said that where before, most suicide calls came in over the holidays, nowadays they get two or three calls a week for attempted suicide. He said it's a shame that people don't know how to get the help they need.
The Effingham County Sheriff's Office is trying to get the word out about laws covering motorists passing stopped school busses. 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. There was confusion, however, about what could be considered a physical barrier.
In Rincon, for instance, with it's five lanes of traffic on Columbia Avenue, if a school bus stops, oncoming traffic must also stop.
An increasing volume of traffic in the county is a major concern of the sheriff's office. The Effingham Parkway is on the drawing board and, with the Savannah port set to be deepened, many more trucks will be soon be on the roads to haul cargo.
A new warehouse and residential area off of Hwy 21 across from Old Augusta Road is being prepared and is said to be bringing about 3,000 new jobs, which also means much more traffic.
The sheriff said, "I don't know how much more we can stack on Highway 21."
Other areas of concern are drugs and gang activity.
While the sheriff acknowledges that Effingham County has some drug woes, it us fortunate to not have a big opioid problem.
On the gang issue, he said he has hired someone to look into the problem to determine just how big it is here. Her name is Leslie Dunn and her position is community liaison. She is a member of the Georgia Gang Investigators Association and worked for the Savannah Police Department for a long time.
McDuffie said she is well versed in the knowledge of gangs and will be instrumental in leading the efforts to combat the problems that are discovered.
His office is also working to educate the public on “Robo-tripping.” That means taking oversized doses of over-the-counter cough syrups that contain alcohol or other substances that often turn the abuser into a strong and violent individual.
The sheriff also warned the public against scams of various types. He said that law enforcement is not going to call and tell you to send them a green dot card or gift card to take care of some infraction. He said scams are on the rise and their office hears about them every week.
When asked what major issues are facing the county, the sheriff said, "I see our traffic situation over the next five to six years becoming a real problem. 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."
He said morning wrecks in Port Wentworth bring Hwy 21 to a stop in Effingham County. He thinks transportation offices will have to start looking at solutions like widening Hwy 21 or adding a third lane onto I-16 coming into Savannah.