By Stan Welch
There is a trend in modern law enforcement that exists in Anderson County and across the state. It is the trend towards pursuing and achieving accreditation by some appropriate agency or another.
Presumably, this accreditation reflects some higher level of training or professionalism than would be present otherwise. I believe the agency which the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office is certified by is the Commission for Accreditation of Law Enforcement.
There are a couple of interesting facts about this accreditation process that intrigue me. One is that to apply for accreditation costs approximately $25,000 each time. Yet, when asked if there was any monetary benefit to accreditation, such as increased eligibility for federal funding, Sheriff John Skipper said there was not.
In a time of constantly shrinking budgets, the expenditure of $25,000 for no immediate reward seems a bit odd. While I have great respect for Sheriff John Skipper and the department he has shaped, I can’t help but think of all the bogus accounting awards that the Preston administration purchased during his decade in power. They meant nothing, except that the check that bought them had cleared the bank.
But the really odd aspect of this craving for accreditation is that one of the tenets that have to be adhered to, in terms of the information provided to the media and the public, is in direct violation of state law.
The South Carolina Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, states clearly that the information contained on police reports or incident reports is available upon request to the media and the public. That provision in the Act, which is a state law, allows for a few exemptions. For example, the names of juveniles, whether suspects or victims, is routinely withheld from such reports.
The same applies to rape victims, and to confidential informants who are a party to an ongoing investigation. The protocol for handling such information according to the accreditation standards, however, says that no information on the subject’s identity or description should be provided as long as an arrest has not been made.
Recently, incident reports from the Sheriff’s office contain virtually no information on the description or identity of the suspects in the various cases.
This lack of information is not only a violation of state law, it is stupid. This is how a report based on a legitimate incident report, written in compliance with the FOIA, would read. (All names and details are purely imaginary.)
On Sunday evening, Harold Jones, of 1441 Elm Street in Piedmont, reported the theft of his truck from his yard. Jones stated that he heard noise in his yard and went outside in time to see two white men get into his Ford F150 truck, green in color, and drive off. Jones said one man was a former employee of his, Randy Jackson, white male, 28 years old, 6’6″ tall, 170 pounds, with red hair and blue eyes. The other subject was 6 feet tall, weighed 320 pounds and was bald.
The same report written according to the protocol? Harold Jones, of 1441 Elm Street in Piedmont reported that two white dudes stole his green Ford truck.
Apparently, the idea is to keep the thieves from knowing they were spotted and identified. That almost makes sense in certain circumstances, doesn’t it? Except for that pesky state law, I could kind of see that.
But what about in this situation? A man gets drunk one evening and he and his wife/girlfriend/baby momma/ whatever get into a fight and he punches her around, then leaves the house. She calls the deputies and they take a report. If that report complies with the FOIA, a description of this guy is available. If it complies with the protocol, his name and description are withheld.
Why? Does the Sheriff really think this guy doesn’t know that his victim named him as the assailant? What is gained by withholding this information? What investigative advantage is achieved?
But in the end, it seems to me the point is simple and irrefutable. As a sworn Constitutional officer of the state of South Carolina, John Skipper and every other county sheriff in this state are sworn to uphold the law, whether they like that particular law or not. Every day these men or their deputies arrest and incarcerate citizens who choose to ignore laws they don’t like.
Is there a difference? Really?
Editor’s Note: The Journal does use some discernment in publishing suspect names depending on the situation or type of incident. However Stan’s comments about the FOIA in South Carolina and the information being redacted from Anderson County Sherriff’s Reports are accurate.
Seems to Me . . .