Federal cuts cause funding, staff problems for rural law enforce - KSFY News - Sioux Falls, SD News, Weather, Sports

Federal cuts cause funding, staff problems for rural law enforcement

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A total of 714 organizations responded to the survey, the majority representing state  and local law enforcement agencies. The survey asked respondents to describe the impact of recent cuts in their communities. A total of 714 organizations responded to the survey, the majority representing state and local law enforcement agencies. The survey asked respondents to describe the impact of recent cuts in their communities.
A total of 714 organizations responded to the survey, the majority representing state  and local law enforcement agencies. The survey asked respondents to describe the impact of recent cuts in their communities. A total of 714 organizations responded to the survey, the majority representing state and local law enforcement agencies. The survey asked respondents to describe the impact of recent cuts in their communities.

In South Dakota, sheriff's offices and police departments patrol 77,116 square miles, and in plenty of rural counties the boots and tires on the ground just aren't enough.

On TV and the big screen life of upholding justice seems glamorous—there's action, science and drama. However, there's a reason it's called fiction. In rural South Dakota, the land is plentiful, but law enforcement is not.

For example, for the last 33 years Dan Mack, former Hamlin County Sheriff, and three other deputies were in charge of more than 500 square miles.

"I feel the whole community was behind us. See all those cards on the end there? Those are all the congratulations and thank you cards for all the services we rendered and all the services we put in," Mack said.

The public's safety demands grew with the communities but so did the problems. Mack said that for the past two decades he asked for another deputy to meet those rising demands. The county commission said it wasn't in the budget.

Randall Rudebusch, Hamlin County Commission Chair, said adding another deputy is just the start. Rudebusch said the commission has to consider the deputy's salary, a new vehicle, supplies, and gas.

"You know it can cost 40 to 50 thousand a year or two to have another deputy on. That's one thing you got to look at too. It's not just their salary. It's other expenses that go into it," Rudebusch said

Rudebusch said the county could have hired another deputy through a federal grant program, but the grant would only cover the position for a few years. After that, Rudebusch said the county would have to cover the deputy's salary.

"That's what you've got to look at down the road and with no new revenue coming in, when you're in a tax freeze your just limited to growth and a consumer price index," Rudebusch said. "You're kind of limited to what you can raise for taxes."

This is not the first funding bout a sheriff has had with a county commission. Kurt Hall, Faulk County Sheriff and South Dakota Sheriff's Association President, said it's an age old battle. Hall said the real competition is the county's bridges and roads, which fights for the largest amount of funding.

"The commissioners do control the purse strings on a sheriff. That is there job, to handle the money for the county and run the county business. I always research what I need go to them and explain it to them very thoroughly. They understand it, they do what they can and we get along," Hall said. "I have been very fortunate."

Lack of available funds also waters down deputies' salaries. Without raising taxes, there is no other money from which to pool. Hall said that problem spans statewide because many young law enforcement officers are hired as deputies, but after a year on the job they are certified to take on higher-paying and more manageable positions.

"So a deputy can take his experience that he gets here for a year or so and get trained. They can go to larger communities, other agencies, police departments, even out of state to larger areas that pay a lot more money, might have better benefits and less hours, actually," Hall said.

Hall's perception is reflected in the number of deputies across the state. The Division of Criminal Investigation does a Sheriffs Management Study every other year and number of officers is included in the report. Unfortunately, the 2011 survey only had 45 of 66 counties responding. In 2009, 57 of 66 counties reported to the survey and this probably reflects more accurately what my personal estimates are, Staci Eggert, South Dakota Sheriff's Association Administrator said.

In South Dakota in 2009 three counties had only one officer, 10 counties had only two officers and 11 counties had only three officers. This means 42 percent of South Dakota counties have three or fewer officers.

"When you consider many of them also have high turnover because of low wages many times they are operating with 1-2 officers at a time," Eggert told KSFY News in an email.

Without raising taxes, where does a county turn? Sheriff's offices and police departments don't receive much state funding, besides money seized through drug busts and money for drug programs. This dilemma prompts counties and police departments to turn to the federal government.

Huron Chief of Police Gary Will said his department relies on $80,000 to $100,000 in federal dollars. He said his department—and many others nationwide—keep seeing public safety demands going up but the federal support is declining.

Recently, that support helped his department pay for overtime, new ballistic vests, and a phone for hostage negotiations.

"Now, I've been here for 18 months, and we went from getting $20,000 to $25,000 per year in federal grants from Homeland Security for this type of equipment down to we didn't get anything. We're now competing for it," Will said. "Federal cuts to law enforcement have devastated what we can do to get the equipment we should have."

Will said one reason the demand is high because of higher expectations from public, based on what they have seen on TV and in movies. He calls it the CSI effect.

Take enhancing video surveillance for example:

"When you see it on TV they put it in—zoom right there they have it. Yeah, no that's not how it works. It takes a long time to actually enhance the video because you're doing it six frames at a time," Will said.

Is DNA the best way to catch a killer—probably not. Chief Will said results take up to eight hours and analyzing can take days. Also, Will said there only a handful of facilities across the nation to analyze DNA.

"We have one crime lab in the state. You send them the work. Well, they've got a murder ahead of it so you drop down. If another one comes in it drops down farther and a rape is going to take priority over a burglary," Will said.

And, how about your most distinct of identities, finger prints? Will said the database of fingerprints doesn't work like it does on TV.

"After they get hit, the hit may include 150 names. It may include only one, but they're matching on points. And then, somebody has to physically sit down and analyze that and actually make the comparison," Will said.

However, spending cuts have not been detrimental to just the most innovative crime solving techniques. Will said that federal cuts have hurt their basic day-to-day operations.

In 2011, more than 500 agencies experienced cuts in federal funding, according to a survey by the Vera Institute of Justice and the National Criminal Justice Association. Out of more than 700 agencies surveyed, 52 percent also experienced a decrease in workforce. These problems have left many agencies to scale back operations.

"I have had to park patrol cars and say you have to be parked and walk foot patrol for x amount of time and go back on patrol, when gas prices took those sudden jumps until they came back down. We've had to do that several times over my career just to make sure we had enough gas to operate the department on," Will said.

"It's just rule of thumb throughout the state and throughout the country: first thing that gets cut is law enforcement," Mack said

That's part of why Dan Mack, former Hamlin County Sheriff, decided it was time to quit. He said the stress was rising and his health was declining. But, he feels guilty for leaving in the middle of his term.

"The people of the county have been super. They put me back in office three times. I felt like I was kind of betraying them and leaving them behind," Mack said.

Despite the despair you may be feeling with the talk of lacking funds, Mack, Sheriff Hall, and Chief Will all said their areas are safe. However, Mack said you have to ask yourself one question:

"In an accident, somebody's laying out their bleeding. What price do you put on that person or the situation."

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