LEXINGTON COUNTY, SC — Lexington County Sheriff James Metts is pressing for at least 112 more deputies by 2020 as part of a plan to keep pace with steady growth.
More officers are vital to handled increasing calls for help as the population rises and to reduce average response time from 15 to 10 minutes, he said in a report to County Council.
The extra deputies would come on board in groups of 16 each year, bringing the total from 260 today to 372 when complete. There are also 24 reserve deputies who provide volunteer assistance.
“Response time to call for service is recognized as a benchmark for customer service in the law enforcement profession,” Metts said in a statement.
Calls to deputies for assistance are forecast in the report to rise to 163,000 in 2020 from 122,000 last year, an increase of nearly a third from today and nearly double those in 2000. And the county’s population is expected to hit 300,000 in 2020, up nearly 40,000 in 10 years, the report predicts.
Faster response demands three new regional headquarters so more deputies are closer to neighborhoods and commercial areas, the report says.
Metts is looking at opening one headquarters in the Chapin area on the north side of the county as soon as mid-2014. He also is looking subsequently at one in the Dixiana area to the south and expansion of another located near Gilbert to the west.
He also wants to open a laboratory for DNA analysis and ballistics tests for quicker detection of trace evidence that he says is vital to solving many offenses quicker.
No cost estimates are included in the report. But it takes about $140,000 a year to pay and equip a deputy who patrols roads, according to a recent request from Metts for federal aid to hire four.
Metts also is asking to add 35 more guards at the county jail in groups of five per year, saying they’re needed to oversee expected inmate growth.
Last year, County Council members approved five new deputies and six more jail guards, saying that was all that was affordable.
Metts’ plan is one of three major staff increases that council members are considering.
The first steps toward adding 50 firefighters are under way, but some council members have said tight finances may slow the goal of completing it in 2016.
Meanwhile, county public safety director David Kerr says extra staff is needed for the new 911 center due to open this summer.
An increase of undetermined size in the 36-person staff is needed to cope with rising calls for police, fire and ambulance service, he said.
Council members agree extra staff in all three areas is necessary to keep pace with growth but aren’t sure if the requests can be met as quickly as desired.
“It’s a juggling act,” council chairman Bill Banning of West Columbia said. “We’ve got to figure who gets a piece of what pie.”
Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.