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County Council Meeting - September 14

Town of James Island will be billed for law enforcement services
Sheriff Cannon pushes again for consolidation
Warwick Jones

It was one of the shortest agendas that we have seen for a meeting of the Finance Committee. The only matter of importance was the issue as to what should be charged by the County for providing law-enforcement services to municipalities, and in particular, for the new Town of James island. The issue had been discussed at the previous meeting of the Committee. But because of its importance, a decision had been deferred to allow more time for consideration. Council, meeting as the Finance Committee, voted to continue providing the present level of servicing until the end of this fiscal year, i.e. to June 2007. Thereafter, the new town would be asked to pay for all law-enforcement services. At least that was our understanding. But like others we were confused.

In the papers circulated to members of the Committee, staff proposed that municipalities of over 5000 persons be charged "the full cost of sheriff routine patrol above current staffing levels". What was voted and agreed on seems to be something different. We, and the Post and Courier as well, understood that the new town will be billed for all law-enforcement services after June 30, 2007. Councilmember Scott towards the end of the discussion said that he was confused and asked again for the motion to be stated. Sheriff Cannon after the meeting confessed to still being confused.

Council member Scott thought the motion was weak and voted against it. He was joined only by Council member Darby.

Routine patrols would require equivalent to 12 full time positions
At the last meeting of the Finance Committee, Sheriff Cannon said that the equivalent of 26 officers was employed full-time in law enforcement on James Island. Staff suggested that this number was inflated and included that for all of James Island and not just the new town. Major Lucas of the Sheriff's Department said it was not easy to make an estimate as many officers working on James Island had duties elsewhere in the County. He estimated that about 12 people working full-time was an appropriate estimate the "routine patrols" in the new town.

Council Chairman Stavrinakis warned several times that the issue before Council was budgetary not administration. The Sheriff was elected by the County, and Council could not tell him how to run law enforcement. It was up to him to allocate and use funds appropriated to law enforcement by the County. Financing law enforcement was the issue.

County could sue for reimbursement
Some legal issues were raised by Council members, and frankly, some were over our heads. But in summary, the Sheriff would provide necessary law enforcement services in the new town regardless of who pays. The payment for the services, whether it was for the present level of services, or additional, was a matter for the County and James Island to resolve. The obligation for payment was not an issue for the next nine months. But thereafter, the County expected James Island to be forthcoming and it wasn't, the County may sue.

Council member McKeown was clearly uneasy about drawing "a line in the sand" on this issue. He suggested the Council do nothing at present as there was no certainty as to whether the James Island town entity would survive a court challenge planned by the City of Charleston. The suggestion was dismissed, largely out of deference to the administration of the new town, which needed to begin planning. Councilmember Condon asked for information in relation to the revenues that the new town could expect. Staff estimated that about $3.5 million in revenue would be given up by the County and other municipalities and which would now flow to the town.

Sheriff speaks of need for consolidation
Sheriff Cannon also took the opportunity to again to extol the virtues of consolidation. He clearly thought that the Sheriff's office should not only control law enforcement on James Island but everywhere in the County. Speaking outside Council Chamber while waiting for the completion of an executive session, he spoke further on the issue. He hoped that Council would ask citizens in a referendum to support consolidation of the law enforcement services. He was confident that if they were aware of the savings and the operational efficiency gains, they would support consolidation. The fragmentation of law-enforcement services in the County presently did not serve citizens well. There was little reason for the major cities of the County to have their own police force except to build the power of the respective mayors. The Sheriff welcomed the opportunity to debate with Mayor Riley or others the merits of law enforcement consolidation.

Incident in Ansonborough last night lends support
We thought little more about the issue until this morning when we were awakened by a telephone call from a neighbor on Society Street. Last night around 10 p.m., there was an attempted robbery outside his house and a gun was fired. Fortunately, no one was injured. Our neighbor called the police. But our neighbor was told that no report would be filed, as there was no injury. The action, or lack of action, was astounding. No report despite the shooting? It's possible that that our friend misunderstood what the policeman said. But it reminded us of the too-often charge that the City of Charleston does not report all of the crime that occurs. It does not want the bad publicity, it does not want to frighten away tourists, it is fearful of the political fall out. The City administration almost certainly would deny any of these accusations. But if we had a County-wide administration of law enforcement which controlled the cities as well, the chances are much better of rising above any political considerations. And there would be the opportunity of achieving the efficiencies that Sheriff Cannon says can be gained.

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