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Law enforcement agencies work to fill open positions amid increase in violent crimes in SC

Updated: Jun. 4, 2021 at 9:24 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - As law enforcement officers across South Carolina face increasing trends of violent crimes, most agencies are also struggling to hire and keep officers on the job.

The chief of the State Law Enforcement Division said Thursday that most departments in the state have openings they need to fill, which has some top cops concerned about the impact.

“We all share the concern that we are not getting the numbers of law enforcement officers that we use to get,” SC Police Chiefs Association Executive Director JJ Jones said. “Not only are we having a recruitment program, but we are having a severe retention program.”

In the tri-county area, vacancy numbers vary by agency. However, the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office has the most open positions currently with 25 vacancies for law enforcement deputies and 95 open positions inside the Al Cannon Detention Center.

To put those numbers in perspective, a full staff for the sheriff’s office would include 313 law enforcement deputies and 328 detention center deputies.

Capt. Roger Antonio said the sheriff’s office continues to fill essential positions, like patrol or detention housing unit roles, with available personnel from specialized units. They are also having to use mandatory overtime to fill open positions at times.

“Working with vacancies is something we’ve adapted to,” Antonio said. “We continuously move employees as needed, but the law side does not remain vacant for long periods of time. We’re equipped to function but still need to fill staffing.”

Many in the law enforcement community said they see officers leaving the profession for more support and better pay elsewhere.

“This has been a trying time for law enforcement the last two years,” Jones said. “We have seen it across the nation and some here at home. The support we use to always get from our communities is slipping. And I would encourage our citizens to support our law enforcement officers. We are there to put it on the line for them every day.”

“It’s a perfect storm,” SC Criminal Justice Academy Director Jackie Swindler said. “You had a terrible year with the pandemic that caused people to have a lot of different issues and stressors and such. But then you go to the year of all the protests and unrest. Look at how police were villainized all over the country…I know a lot of people I talk that have tried to discourage their children from entering this profession.”

The Charleston Police Department is currently working to fill 45 officer vacancies. However, their recruiter says that number doesn’t tell the whole story about the culture the Charleston Police Department is trying to create and maintain within its ranks as it hires new officers.

Senior Officer Terry Cherry said she views recruiting as a positive challenge that can help diversify the department.

“All agencies need change, including law enforcement. There’s always room for growth,” Cherry said. “That sort of negative idea that law enforcement is not the right place for people now, I just don’t agree. The community really appreciates law enforcement, they really appreciate what we do here, and there are people who are really passionate about becoming police officers.”

The Charleston Police Department is getting ready to release its first recruitment video.

Meanwhile, some smaller agencies have fewer openings. The Mount Pleasant Police Department has 14 vacancies.

“The Mount Pleasant Police Department looks at recruitment from every level in our agency. Our Office of Professional Standards is actively recruiting through social media, career fairs, our website, and we have done a recruitment day here at the police department recently,” MPPD Public Information Officer Donald Calabrese said. “We have developed a recruitment team that is a collateral duty for officers assigned to other full-time duties such as patrol, school resource, investigations, etc. as a way to connect with potential applicants.”

The North Charleston Police Department is working to fill 20 open positions using similar tactics.

“The formal recruitment efforts of North Charleston Police Department include attending career fairs, both virtually over the past year and in-person, enhanced recruitment efforts through the North Charleston Police Department Recruitment Unit social media accounts, and the recent addition of the kiosk at Northwoods Mall. One of our most important recruitment tools is our officers, who promote the agency and recruit potential officers. Other means of recruiting include attending locally hosted law enforcement and community events and partnerships with local colleges and universities,” according to NCPD officials. “Some of the efforts to retain officers include providing them with the most up-to-date equipment to ensure they have the tools to do their job effectively, providing strong peer support and Critical Incident Stress Management to ensure officer wellness, and providing above-average salary and benefits. Other recruitment and retention efforts are in the development phase and will be published, when they are ready.”

The Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office is working to attend more job fairs now that the state’s COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted. The DCSO currently has six vacancies for law enforcement deputies and 13 full-time and 7 part-time vacancies within its detention center.

“We are doing the our very best to fill these positions within the agency. We advertise via social media and the positions are posted on the Dorchester County website,” DCSO officials said. “Now that a majority of the COVID restrictions have been lifted, we are able to attend job fairs at the local career centers as well as the colleges. We also have signs posted in various areas throughout the county advertising the position(s).”

The Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office currently has one opening at its detention center and five deputy vacancies, while Moncks Corner Police Department has just two vacancies for officers.

“The department actively uses online services and the website to enhance recruitment and to advertise vacant positions. To enhance retainment, the department has used an outside source study to keep the department’s salaries comparative with other agencies. The department strives to continue improving officer working conditions through providing the most updated and advanced equipment,” Moncks Corner Public Information Officer Molly Willard said.

On the other end of the spectrum though is the Summerville Police Department, which currently has zero vacancies. They even have a waiting list of applicants trying to get hired.

Officials said six of those on the waiting list have already gone through the SC Criminal Justice Academy and are just waiting on a spot to open, while another 55 applicants are on file and still need to be trained.

Summerville Police officials said they think a lot of the attraction to their department comes from the community’s support of its officers. The department’s former chief and current chief have also worked to create a family-oriented culture. The department is starting its own recruitment team soon.

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