UNION COUNTY — The year of 2013 was a violent year for Union County residents. With another year of budget constraints and being expected to do more with less is the theme that we continue to hear.
Let me assure you that all the news is not bad because we have had a productive year. We have worked closely with Mr. Sinclair and (Union) County Council to provide a safe county for our people to live in.
We had three homicides in 2013, which was one more than in 2012. We have no unsolved homicides in the county which should be a positive indicator that we live in a great area of the state.
Here are some trends that are troubling and will have to be discussed as we prepare for the upcoming budget year. The Union County Sheriff’s Office had 18,321 calls for service in 2013. That is an increase by 3,416 from 2012, but the number of cases assigned to investigators was down 130 cases from 2012. That is a positive sign and we would like to attribute that to increased patrols and the success of our investigators solving cases.
The sheriff’s office put 2,224 people in jail in 2013, which was an increase of 708 from 2012. Our investigators contributed a lot to the increase for the arrest of larcenies that were committed.
One resource that has contributed great dividends is our bloodhound unit that assists us, especially on our burglaries and robberies. We deployed our bloodhound unit 65 times in 2013 which is about the same number from 2012. The dogs have been successful 25 percent of the times they were deployed.
Our drug dogs have been deployed and used on day and night patrol with our patrol deputies. They are available for easy access for vehicle searches for the (Union) Public Safety Department and sheriff’s office deputies.
The sheriff’s office patrol division has many duties to keep them busy during the year. Answering calls is just a portion of their function. One of their biggest responsibilities is serving warrants, civil papers and family court. In 2013, our patrol units and family court officers served 5,410 warrants and civil papers. In 2012, we served 5,567 legal documents in Union County.
The Sheriff’s Office Narcotic Division had another successful year, even though the number of people arrested was down. In 2013, we have worked closely with the DEA, U.S. Marshals and the FBI on some cases that we are not at liberty to discuss at this time. More information will be forthcoming in 2014 on those cases. In 2013, our narcotics officers seized $378,067 in currency in drug investigations. Our officers seized two vehicles and took 16 weapons off of drug dealers in Union County. It’s not always about the number of drug cases you make but the quality of cases that you make. You will see and hear more in 2014 from our Narcotics Division.
Our FBI Upstate Gang Task Force Unit has assisted Union County in combating gang activity by contributing funds for making drug purchases and gang intelligence. In 2013, the FBI contributed nearly $5,000 and other surveillance equipment to the Union County Sheriff’s Office at no cost to the tax payers. This equipment along with additional manpower from outside Union County has helped us to combat this ongoing problem.
The Union County Jail has been the topic of some conversations with county council. Trust me in the year ahead, council will have more conversations about the county jail.
The jail conversation may seem less desirable than the Timken Complex, but it is a real important part of our county function.
In 2011, after a failed escape attempt, I asked county council to fund a jail limited risk assessment and council agreed to fund the request. In the summer of 2011 the assessment was done by Operational Support Services, Inc. and the results were presented to council. In the report it was noted that $14,075 had already been spent for emergency repairs out of an already tight budget.
It was also noted that no dollar amount was designated for facility sustainment. As of today, there is still no facility sustainment budget.
The report said based on materials and construction, the facility is best classified as a medium risk facility. In 2013, we had 12 people incarcerated charged with murder or attempted murder at the same time, in a facility that at best is classified as a medium security facility.
I have not even mentioned officer safety, inmate safety, low paying salaries, employee turnover problems, inmate segregation or the manual cell door locks.
In 2012 and 2013 we again discussed the sagging ceiling at the jail and the leaking roof. Mr. Sinclair made great strides to fix the leaking roof and he has always been very helpful. The roof was recapped in 2013 but it still leaks today. It goes back to faulty architectural design and a poorly constructed facility.
In November 2013, we went to Mr. Sinclair and county council about high humidity levels and poor ventilation in the jail. I know by now Mr. Sinclair hates to see me coming because he knows that I am bringing bad news about the jail.
A preliminary assessment was done on the problem and the results were not good. The ventilation system was not adequate for the facility size. All heating and air conditioning equipment installed with the original construction is past its expected life and needs to be replaced. No provisions were made on the original plans to provide an “air balance” to replace exhausted air qualities with conditioned outside air while maintaining a positive pressure within the facility.
I said all of that to say this, “We need to bring our jail up to better conditions or build a new facility.” If we do not then we better be prepared to deal with the consequences.
The average daily population is down to 56 per day in 2013 compared to 63 per day in 2012 at the jail.
The county CrimeStopper program has been resilient in the past four years for fighting crime in Union County. The year of 2013, we received 312 CrimeStopper tips and we paid out 62 reward checks. Those tips helped to solve 124 cases and helped recover $15,400 in stolen property. Chief Deputy Perry Haney and all the CrimeStoppers Board members are to be commended for another great year.
911/Emergency Management Division
The 911 communication center and EMD has had a very productive year, a year of upgrades and improvements. The good thing is that it was done through grant funds and no expense to the taxpayers.
In July 2013, we were able to purchase a more user friendly Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) that will be able to be used with Next Generation 911. In a few more years, 911 will become more efficient in its operation because of NG911, we will be able to receive 911 text messages to report crimes. The CAD cost was $131,312 and that cost was reimbursed through 911 fees.
One of the other upgrades was to the UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply) of a cost of $15,000 to the 911 Center. This project was funded through an EMD grant and no cost to the taxpayers.
We have added several additional features to our communications center that will help us if we were to have some type of disaster and to assist us in training exercises. We now have two smart boards, event planner and damage assessment software to assist us if we were to have a major event that would involve multiple organizations working in a major catastrophe event. All of this was funded through money that was available through Emergency Management funding. We also were able to purchase a new sign making computer and two 800 Mhz-radios to assist if our radio tower were to go down for repairs.
We continually search for free funding to help keep up with the ever changing technology improvements.
Other Important News
We also are proud to tell you the following items were received under non-matching grants to help operate the Sheriff’s Office: A 2013 Dodge Charger “HEAT” car to assist in traffic safety in Union County. Since July 2013, the car has been used to get 15 drunk drivers off the road in Union County.
Through other funding resources, the Sheriff’s Office was able to receive: traffic cones, barricades, road flares, window tint meter, cameras, flashlights and a cargo trailer.
Our department has worked hard to be successful, productive and to be unified in being public servants to the residents of Union County. We cannot always please everyone in our line of work, but we do strive to treat everyone with respect. As we move forward into 2014 we have to remember that technology is evolving every day. We have to change with the trends of crimes and with the change of times. If we do not continue to progress then our Law Enforcement will regress over the next year.
This article was written by Union County Sheriff David Taylor.