Sheriff: 'Being an officer is a passion'

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Three weeks after asking Sumter County Council to consider a 15 percent salary increase for Sumter County Sheriff's Office personnel, Sheriff Anthony Dennis continues to push forward for his employees.

In a letter to the council last month, Dennis said he thinks the officers' services are being taken for granted because they are getting paid less than what they earn.

On Tuesday, Dennis' concerns were still the same.

The reduction in crime in the county speaks volumes of the officers' quality of service, he said.

According to 2014 and 2015 crime reports released by South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, the number of violent crimes committed in Sumter County, including the city of Sumter, dropped from 717 incidents to 676 from 2014 to 2015, respectively. And, the number of reported property crimes dropped from 4,179 to 3,862 from 2014 to 2015.

He said he understands that county council has many factors to consider during its budget process each year. It's a tough task to distribute funds to so many departments, he said.

And although the money just may not be there, Dennis said he has to let county council know his concerns as the leader of the sheriff's office. He said he appreciates the support county council and the county government have shown throughout the years.

It's been quite some time, years, since Sumter County's salaries have been competitive with neighboring counties, said Maj. Allen Dailey.

He said 25 officers transferred to other jurisdictions during the last five years. Officers typically stay in Sumter County for two to five years before transferring, he said.

Dailey said he does not think the officers intended to receive training in Sumter County just to go to another agency, but instead accepted better opportunities after a few years.

He said bringing in new officers costs the agency approximately $18,400 in training at the law enforcement academy and sheriff's office.

Those expenses do not include the costs for uniforms, body armor, weapons and other equipment, said Chief Deputy Hampton Gardner.

When an officer leaves the sheriff's office, the remaining deputies are moved from different departments so there are enough officers to respond to emergency calls and provide backup if needed, Dennis said.

He said making sure there is enough personnel in each department is already a difficult task because of additional positions mandated by the state.

Dailey said the sheriff's office has had approximately 140 employees, sworn officers and civilians, for about five years. "We're asked to do more with less," he said.

Dennis said about 40 percent of sworn officers at the sheriff's office have part-time jobs.

He said he wants officers to be able to spend time with their families instead of working additional jobs. There is a high divorce rate among law enforcement officers and the deputies are already kept from their families because of their duties as officers, he said.

Dennis said he does not fear negative reactions from deputies about the salary discussion because becoming an officer requires more motivation than payment.

"Being an officer is a passion," he said.

Sumter County Council has not denied the request, but Sumter County Administrator Gary Mixon said during a previous Sumter County Fiscal, Tax and Property Committee on April 11 that he did not see a way to make the salary adjustment at that point.

He said county staff would continue to review the numbers.