COLUMBIA, SC — The State Law Enforcement Division is asking for 65 additional agents as South Carolina’s statewide police force tries to rebuild after years of staffing cuts.
If lawmakers grant the agency’s request in the state’s next budget, SLED would have just more than the 383 agents that it had before the economic downturn struck in 2008, agency director Mark Keel said in a budget presentation Wednesday to a S.C. House subcommittee.
SLED officials told lawmakers they want $15.2 million in new spending next year. That does not include authorization to spend $3.5 million on a new helicopter with money the agency has in its accounts.
About half the new agents – 30 – would work in alcohol enforcement. They would make sure establishments have proper licenses and close on time, and checking for underage drinkers.
Keel said SLED had two alcohol-enforcement agents to monitor 16,000 licensed establishments statewide when he took over as director in 2011. The agency has 13 now.
To help tackle the state’s growing methamphetamine problem, SLED wants to add four narcotics agents and about $500,000 to its fund to dispose of meth labs, Keel said. Lab busts already have surpassed last year’s total, he added.
“We’re getting beaten up with meth labs,” Keel told lawmakers. “It’s hard to stop them because (meth is) so easy to make.”
SLED also wants to spend more than $2 million on new vehicles and more than $2 million on new computers and software to fight cybercrime, including keeping hackers from getting into the agency’s systems.
“It has to be state-of-the-art,” Keel told lawmakers. “It cannot get behind.”
The agency wants to bring in eight forensic scientists, two agents to examine public corruption, an agent to train for active shooters and add four agents to its child-fatality unit, which has a 400-case backlog.
SLED would pay for the new helicopter with $2.3 million not spent on new personnel because of lag times in hiring and $1.2 million in cash seized from criminals, Keel said. The new helicopter would replace a 1968 OH-6 model. The agency owns four helicopters.
State solicitors also made their pitch Wednesday for more money in the state budget that takes effect July 1.
They asked for $6.4 million next year to speed prosecution on violent cases – murders, rapes and robberies – that the prosecutors said account for 25 percent of crimes committed. Statewide, more than 7,000 of those cases were pending in August, solicitors told lawmakers.
Solicitors also want $2.3 million to pay for victim and witness assistance. That funding was eliminated in 2011. Prosecutors must provide aid to witnesses and victims – including notifying them when cases are heard and helping them collect restitution. Some solicitors have been using paralegals to provide assistance to victims.