Owens suggest countywide law enforcement agency

Published 3:57 pm Thursday, July 10, 2008

Polk County commissioner Ted Owens says he thinks the county and its three towns would be better off if they combined their law enforcement efforts under a single countywide agency.

The consolidation would save money for the county and the three towns, he says, and would give the county a more stable and more accountable law enforcement service.

The countywide agency would be led by a person who is appointed rather than elected as the sheriff is. Owens notes that many officers typically resign or are fired when a new sheriff takes over.

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&dquo;People who go to work there now think they may not be there in four years (after the next election),&dquo; says Owens. &dquo;This way they would know they are going to have a job.&dquo;

Owens, a Republican incubment who is seeking reelection to the county board this November, shared his views on county law enforcement services with the Bulletin recently and in a GOP candidate forum at Tryon Estates.

He said he is not suggesting that the county eliminate the sheriff&squo;s position but that it could be reduced to the minimum level of responsibility assigned by the state. The sheriff&squo;s office is at a minimum responsible for ensuring the safety and security of the court and operating a jail, including supervision of inmates.

Some other responsibilities, such as routine patrols and investigations, have been added to the sheriff&squo;s office over time but could be taken away, Owens says. Having those responsibilities under an appointed agency would ensure that services are provided in a consistent and cost-effective manner, he says.

He notes that police services represent a significant tax burden for residents in Tryon, Columbus and Saluda, where they represent much of the general fund budget. The towns could obtain the same level of service at less cost by combining resources, he says.

&dquo;We could have a professional countywide law enforcement service at much lower cost and it would be professional so it wouldn&squo;t change every time an election came around,&dquo; says Owens.

His suggestion comes after the current county board has raised concerns about operations in the current sheriff&squo;s office.

Specifically, commissioners have cited a high number of accidents involving sheriff&squo;s office vehicles, much higher than normal gas consumption at a time of soaring gas prices, and high turnover among employees. Last year the county board implemented a hiring freeze for the sheriff&squo;s office and worked with sheriff Chris Abril to bring spending more in line with the budget. The county board also moved to take away communications services from under the sheriff&squo;s supervision and put those employees under the county manager.