Clark reflects on first six months in office

COUNTY — As the first week in July arrived at the Pickens County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Rick Clark found himself reviewing and reflecting back on the vast progress his office has made thus far in 2013.

An immediate restructure and redistribution of manpower throughout the agency allowed the sheriff to deploy resources where the agency was simply falling behind.

“The agency had too many figureheads and not enough help where it was needed,” Clark said. “Civil papers and warrants were not being served as timely and as efficiently as they could have been, thus requiring legitimate victims to wait unnecessarily for their cases to ever reach civil or criminal courts.

“Keeping watch over sex offenders and sexual predators had previously been tasked to our uniform patrol deputies, which ultimately takes away available time to patrol neighborhoods, schools and our businesses.”

The solution for Clark was easy. He elected to reduce the number of high-ranking positions and divert those funds to pay for deputies that work on the front line. Combining two divisions which were previously managed by two captains now allows for detectives to work together under the direction of one captain as opposed to two.

A position previously occupied by an in-house staff attorney was also reallocated, allowing the sheriff to increase staffing in other areas.

“I cannot see the benefits of paying for an in-house attorney when we have a great relationship with the Pickens County attorney and the 13th Circuit Solicitor’s Office,” Clark said. “Both of those resources have been more than willing to assist our agency at all times of the day or night, and I am fully content with their service. I need deputies on the street and not a position tied up by an attorney in the office.”

In addition, there was a position being occupied under the label of “special projects.” Clark has since moved that detective to work narcotics investigations.

“Meth has taken our county hostage, and the priority to investigate drug-related cases can no longer be ignored,” he said. “I just don’t have a need for a special projects investigator.”

The sheriff implemented a transition to change to more cost-effective uniforms made of material that is more comfortable and less prone to ordinary damage which comes from working in rough terrain and harsh conditions.

“We were paying $98 for a single pair of uniform pants that were made from material that is 20 to 30 years old in terms of technology. Now, we are issuing pants that are more comfortable, offer better wear and meet today’s expectations in regards to their ability to wick moisture and maintain durability,” Clark said. “The cost savings at nearly 60 percent for each pair of pants is astronomical.”

In addition, Clark said, “we have increased the number of deputies to our sex offender unit, which serves as the watchdog for approximately 260 sex offenders that have chosen to reside in Pickens County. We have also increased the number of deputies that serve civil process papers, which can run as high as 350 to 400 each month.

“We implemented a zone concept for deploying our manpower based on the crime trends within each community. Placing patrol units in areas where we have a larger population density and an increased level of crime is just good police management.”

Upgrading the security of the Law Enforcement Center was also a priority for Clark as he shared concerns echoed by the community following a jailbreak in November of 2012. A manhunt lasting several days was highly publicized following the escape of two inmates from the jail.

“As soon as we took office in January, securing the jail and our communications center was an absolute necessity,” he said. “Currently, we have in excess of 19 inmates charged with murder or attempted murder. Escape of violent inmates is just not acceptable.”

“If our dispatch center is compromised it could interrupt service to the citizens in the county; therefore, we had to make some improvements to the infrastructure at the Law Enforcement Center,” Clark said.

The project to address the remaining vulnerabilities at the detention facility is scheduled to break ground in the near future, as funding has been identified and approved with no tax increase to the citizens.

When asked about what his greatest accomplishment at the sheriff’s office has been over the past six months, Clark said “without question it has been the opportunity to move qualified people in the right positions to give the taxpayers the service that they pay for. We have made approximately a dozen internal promotions within the agency, and I’m confident that our men and women share my desire to serve the people.”

“There is no better feeling than to receive the tremendous feedback from our citizens telling me how much they appreciate what one of my deputies has done for them or to simply tell me that they see a positive change in the sheriff’s office,” Clark said. “We are definitely on the right track but we have to remain focused and continue to work together”.