‘Let my office do its job,’ sheriff says

Published 1:13 pm Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Owens said the consolidation would save taxpayer dollars for both the county and the towns and would give the county a more stable and more accountable law enforcement service.

Owens suggested that the county-wide agency would be led by a person who is appointed rather than elected, but that the sheriff position would not be eliminated. Rather, he proposed that the sheriff position be reduced to the minimum level of responsibility assigned by the state. Duties for the sheriff, Owens suggested, would be to ensure the safety and security of the court and to operate a jail.

Abril said there has been no movement in any of the three towns or police agencies to dissolve their forces and he is sure the three towns&squo; police chiefs and their elected officials would have their own opinions about Owens&squo; idea.

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Abril also says that he is not&bsp; aware of the county crime rate increasing and addressed other concerns that have been made public since his election (see full letter from Sheriff Abril below).

Polk County commissioners have raised concerns in recent months about the operation of the sheriff&squo;s office, specifically citing the number of vehicle accidents, high fuel consumption and a high employee turnover rate.&bsp;Editor&squo;s note: The following letter was submitted by Polk County Sheriff Chris Abril regarding a law enforcement consolidation suggestion made recently by county commissioner Ted Owens, and other general comments about the sheriff&squo;s office. See story, page 1.

To the Editor:

Are any of you fans of Broadway musicals? Andrew Lloyd Webber&squo;s long-running &dquo;Phantom of the Opera&dquo; has a classic line in it when the Phantom is sending letters to the managers of the opera house. The Phantom writes, &dquo;Gentlemen, I have sent you several notes of the most amiable nature&ellip;.&dquo;

It seems that every time I pick up a Tryon Daily Bulletin or attend a county commissioner meeting in some way, shape, or form that I or the Polk County Sheriff&squo;s Office is the subject of reader comments, an editorial, or an agenda item. Every time we take the high road, attempt to work with those concerned about us, and try to remedy questions or problems, we seem to always have another question, or as some would say, attack, arise.

However, we now find ourselves constantly being lowered to &dquo;slinging mud&dquo; with each other. Recently commissioner Ted Owens stated in the Bulletin his idea to bring a county-wide law enforcement agency to Polk County, and, according to the Bulletin, reduce/eliminate job functions currently handled by this office. First of all, I cannot speak on behalf of the municipal police departments, but I&squo;m sure Chief Lindsey, Chief Kennedy, and Chief Arrowood, along with their elected officials, have their own opinions about commissioner Owens&squo; idea. To this date there has been no movement in any of these three agencies to dissolve their force and be absorbed into a county-wide agency.

Commissioner Owens&squo; comments do bring to light a point on his end. Are these comments simply his way of publicly saying that the sheriff&squo;s office is doing a poor job and not adequately serving the citizens of Polk County? I&squo;m not aware of an increase in the crime rate or any other adverse effect of ineffective law enforcement, so I question why he thinks there is a need to change the direction our agencies are headed. Commissioner Owens also claims that this would, ultimately, save taxpayer money.&bsp; However, when we presented to him the idea of switching brands of patrol cars, saving us money on each car purchased, we were told to keep local money local, and pay the higher price. No matter where we try to save taxpayer money, we end up having to spend it in the end. Many have already asked that wouldn&squo;t we end up spending more because our tax dollars would not only have to pay the salary of a county sheriff, but also a county police chief.

I also want to address the issues that Mr. Dailey brings up in his article containing commissioner Owens&squo; comments. We have addressed already the issue of accidents at the PCSO in a previous letter to the editor. We have also worked diligently these last few months to attempt to save fuel. This has been a delicate &dquo;balancing act&dquo; as one way to cut fuel costs would be to eliminate so many miles of &dquo;road patrol.&dquo;&bsp; Doing this, however, could lead to an increase in the crime rate since areas would not be patrolled as frequently as they currently are. We can report that as of late our office has seen a decrease in fuel consumption thanks to the efforts of our staff. However, we are not the only agency dealing with fuel costs ‐ look at any major newspaper and see what other public safety agencies are having to do to attempt to save fuel.

Many of you are reading this and have thoughts about the recent termination of Captain Juan Hernandez and the possible criminal activity regarding seizure money. While some of you look at this as the &dquo;joke&dquo; of Polk County, none seem too quick to point out we are not the only agency in this county with such a problem. It was only a little over a year ago that the Polk County Tax Office faced an embezzlement issue. Also, no one wants to mention that the Polk County Sheriff&squo;s Office, under Sheriff Satterfield, had a similar issue. Rather, they use our situation as an opportunity to attack our office. Many of you know me ‐ I have no problem with what you say about me ‐ I have heard pretty much everything since my charges were brought against me. What I have a problem with is that when you question the department as a whole, you not only attack me, but you attack my employees as well. Each man and woman who works at the sheriff&squo;s office gives each of you 100 percent each and every time they are on duty. Rather than praising their efforts, you attempt to undermine this office by your comments and actions. At what point in time would you, as a law enforcement officer, want to work here when it seems that so many question how you do your job, or even if these people really want you here at all?

This is in no way a situation that &dquo;politicking&dquo; can remedy. The solution comes from each officer of the PCSO, each officer of the Columbus PD, the Tryon PD, and Saluda PD. You do have a fine law enforcement force in this county, and you should be proud of the effort each agency gives to you. The time has long passed to drop the arguments and let my office do its job. The men and women of this agency deserve at least that.

‐ Polk County Sheriff Chris Abril &bsp;