By Stan Welch
Approximately a hundred citizens and law enforcement officers gathered at the White Plains Community Building Thursday night to watch and listen as Anderson County Sheriff John Skipper made his case for reelection, while two challengers made their case for a change in leadership. The debate was organized and sponsored by the White Plains Crime Watch group.
Since there is no Democratic opposition in the general election, the Republican primary will determine who the next sheriff will be.
Former ACSO deputy under three sheriffs, including Skipper, Chad McBride repeatedly challenged the incumbent’s handling of his budget, while former SCHP trooper Jeremy Pickens challenged the sheriff’s management style, and linked it to what he says is a subpar performance by the department.
All three men responded to each of the pre-screened questions submitted by the audience,with additional responses and rebuttals allowed as needed by the commentator. All three men agreed that traffic enforcement , while important, is not a priority for the department.
Skipper mentioned some traffic safety programs his department takes part in, but conceded that traffic is not a central focus. McBride agreed that the department has more pressing demands, such as investigation of property crimes. “We need to be more of a presence , a deterrence in the count. And we need to put more resources into investigation.”
Pickens agreed with the lower priority but added that more people died in traffic accidents last year in the county than by homicide. “A life lost is a life lost,” said Pickens.
The question of competitive salaries and their impact on recruitment and retention was a major topic. That issue morphed quickly into a debate about what the challengers agreed is a top heavy department with little room for advancement. McBride repeatedly returned to his view that, whether the sheriff had his own tax levy to fund the department or it was funded through the county budget as a line item, the responsibility for allocating resources lies with the sheriff.
Skipper , in turn, repeatedly argued that his control of the budget is not as absolute as some may think. “Each year for eight years, the state survey done on the administration and condition of the jail, for example, has recommended the hiring of sixteen additional corrections officers to manage the size population that we have. Eight years in a row. And eight years in a row we submit that request to the Council. And for eight years in a row, they have refused to fund that. ”
McBride stated that over the last three years, approximately one hundred ninety officers have left the department, or approximately one half of the force. “People don’t leave jobs. They leave bad management. The command staff is filled with retirees who have come back to work. That stymies advancement from younger people who should be stepping into these command roles. When they see they can’t advance, they go someplace they can.”
Pickens agreed, saying that the only way to get a raise at the ACSO is to get a promotion. “So if a deputy continues to learn and to improve at his job, he can’t be rewarded until he gets a promotion. That’s a stagnant situation.”
Greenville County starts new deputies at about $38,000 a year. Anderson, after several years of no increase, went to $31,000 a year for new hires last year. McBride also raised the issue of longevity raises, which reward personnel for their time in service. He claimed that those raises have been discontinued, hurting morale and retention of officers. Skipper retorted that he was told specifically by Council members that the raises would not be lost. “Then, when they approved the budget, the funding was gone. My experience is that some of those Council members will tell you just about anything.”
The issue of drugs and the other crimes they foster came up, with Skipper touting the success of the combined agency drug task force in which the ACSO participates. “We have made arrests all across the country, including California. Some of those arrests I cannot talk about. But the task force has been effective.”
McBride quickly jumped on that claim, saying that he isn’t interested in what happens in California. “I see people in this room tonight who have been affected by the drug epidemic in this county. I care about what happens in Anderson County, and crime has never been worse in this county than it is right now. I would go hard on the street level dealers, and not worry so much about the big fish. If you hit the street level guys hard, you’ll get your share of the big fish as a result.”
Pickens reiterated how much collateral crime occurs that is related to drugs. “The key is to be more proactive in our approach to law enforcement; not just as it relates to drug enforcement but as a general philosophy.”
That led to a discussion of the way that Skipper has allocated personnel and resources. His use of a regional method was challenged by McBride who says that a reduced presence and deterrence has resulted. “I would return to assigning deputies by school district lines, like we used to do.”
Skipper quickly presented statistics that show a serious discrepancy between the number of calls in the various school districts. Some of the more urban districts receive three or four times the calls that District One might receive, for example. “I don’t know how you justify putting the same number of personnel in District three as you do district five,” said Skipper.
A similar debate between the three candidates for solicitor will take place on May 26 at 6:30 p.m. Wilson Burr, David Wagner and Rame Campbell will participate. The White Plains Community Building is located at the intersection of S.C. Hwy. 8 and Midway Road, near the I-85 Exit 32 interchange.