It’s been a hot-button issue for the county in the past, the sheriff’s office’s take-home car policy. For Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie, it’s a third-rail issue — as in that sign on the subway that says “don’t touch the third rail.”
The sheriff is adamant about the take-home cars for his deputies. It’s been a longstanding policy, and one he isn’t prone to abandon anytime soon.
“We’re going to continue to have a take-home car policy,” he said. “If someone violates that policy, we park the car out back.”
He can point to recent instances as to why he believes in the take-home cars.
On the afternoon of Aug. 21, at around 4 p.m., two off-duty Effingham County sheriff’s deputies were on their way to work in their patrol cars. They saw a Georgia State Patrol trooper chasing a motorcycle on Highway 21 into Screven County. The trooper was alone, and the two off-duty deputies stepped in to assist him.
They got the suspect stopped near Newington and took a gun off him.
But had the deputies been on their way to their shift and not been in marked vehicles, could they have been able to help the trooper, who was acting without backup around, in the arrest?
The sheriff has a response for those who ask why Effingham County deputies who don’t live in the county can’t park their cars at the county line, like Chatham County Sheriff’s Office deputies do.
“We don’t have 700 deputies,” he said. “Chatham County doesn’t work crimes as much as we do. They work the courts and the jail and the civil process. It’s a little easier for them to park their cars.”
Having deputies with their cars at the ready, instead of having to go to a central point somewhere and retrieve their vehicles, comes in handy in times of crisis, the sheriff explained. He used the example of a young man who stabbed his brother to death, assaulted his parents and then fled into the neighborhood armed, an instance which actually did take place a few years ago.
“I got a man that just assaulted three people, killed one of them, and is running around the subdivision with a knife,” the sheriff said. His direction to his officers is “I need you here now,” he added, “and that’s the way it needs to be. But if I get a call tonight that I got a man that just went and killed two people in his house and he’s running around the neighborhood with a gun, and I’ve got a sergeant and four deputies, ‘I need help and I need you here now.’”
The investigators even have a protocol to follow in an emergency with their out-of-county residents. One detective lives almost in the shadow of Memorial University Medical Center and goes there to await the arrival of any victims and get any statements from them there, rather than having to go into Springfield, get a car and then rush back to Savannah and hoping to get to the victim before any medical procedure is undertaken. Another, who lives closest to the office, goes in to prepare any warrant papers that have to be rushed to a magistrate.
Taking away the take-home cars does two things, in the sheriff’s point of view. One, “it hurts the deputies,” he said. “It’s going to cost them a bunch of money. And it decreases the safety aspect because we cannot get folks here in a timely fashion when we need help.”
The storms that swept through Effingham earlier this month meant having to pull in the deputies who just got off duty and those who weren’t on duty yet to respond to the closed and blocked roads. The sheriff also pointed to being able to call in off-duty personnel quickly as one reason they were able to contain a jail breakout quickly.
“Being able to get in those guys off duty to help us set up that perimeter,” the sheriff said. “We were able to box them in in a matter of minutes.”
“We’ve got six guys and they cover the entire county,” McDuffie said. So when he tells them “We need help, and we need it now,” having the take home cars, in his point of view, allows him to get the assistance he needs quickly.
“If I call in off duty deputies, and I say get here now, they can’t run but the speed limit if they’re in a POV. When I call needing somebody off duty, I need them here now,” he said. “I don’t want them running all over Timbuktu, trying to find a car — ‘get here now, I need you.’ ”