REAPPOINTMENT OF STATE’S PUBLIC SAFETY DIRECTOR WAS “AN EXERCISE IN SECRECY AND STATUS QUO”
To whom it may concern:
In recent years there has been great scrutiny of many State Agencies such as the Department of Social Services (SCDSS), the Department of Transportation (SCDOT), and the Department of Employment and Workforce (SCDEW). While all of these agencies are important and have received the appropriate scrutiny and review, there is one that is arguably the most important and has received little. That agency is the Department of Public Safety (SCDPS).
The Department of Public Safety is comprised of several different law enforcement agencies such as the State Transport Police, Illegal Immigration Unit, and the Capitol Police. The main part of the agency that impacts nearly every citizen is the South Carolina Highway Patrol, and that is where the problems currently reside.
Governor Nikki Haley has reappointed the current Director Leroy Smith for another four year term, and the Senate Judiciary committee this past week approved her nomination unanimously with little debate. In this hearing, there was some discussion of troopers who are unhappy in their working conditions, but the discussions were mostly about things that do not have much impact on the citizen’s daily lives.
As most processes seem to be in state government, this reappointment and confirmation appear to be an exercise in secrecy and status quo. There was no testimony from anyone other than the director, and there was no input from citizens or troopers. The confirmation process should be an honest evaluation of services, results, and return on investment of tax money.
After four years under the leadership of the current Director and large increases in funding appropriations from the General Assembly, the true questions should have been:
- Are South Carolinians and visitors to the state safer?
- Is the Agency being managed better than it was four years ago?
The answer to both questions is no.
In the past four years, traffic fatalities have steadily increased each year. A few years ago, the number of people killed on South Carolina roadways had fallen to record lows of around 750. Last year they had returned to nearly record high numbers close to 1,000. That is an additional 250 families that lost a loved one, had their family torn apart, and suffered irreparable harm. Ask anyone who has lost a loved one in a traffic collision what should be the agencies priorities should be.
It is not hard to determine, that one of the single biggest causes in this increase in deaths is the lack of troopers in every area of the state. Everyone knows that if you never see a trooper, human tendency is too engage in driving habits that are more risky. The General Assembly has to be commended in this area as they have made a significant investment in providing for increased safety.
Over the past four years, the General Assembly has:
- Added funding for 74 new troopers
- Increased trooper pay 5%
- Funded $1 million in additional trooper pay increases in the current budget
- Appropriated millions of dollars for new trooper vehicles and equipment such as Tasers and body armor
- Appropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime pay for troopers
Those are significant investments in a very important agency that touches the lives of everyone in this state. Just a cursory search of the past four years budget appropriations reveal over $15 million dollars in new money invested in the Highway Patrol.
Sadly, after all this investment, the executive branch has very little to show for it. After raises for troopers, funding to hire new troopers, and funding for new equipment, the number of troopers has significantly declined and has reached a critical level.
In four years:
- The agency has never hired the 74 new troopers that were appropriated.
- The total number of troopers has dwindled to approximately 750. Which is about 60 less than when the current Director took office.
- In the Director’s previous term, 325 troopers left the agency either through retirement, resignation, or termination. That equates to approximately 40% of the total force leaving.
In the Director’s recent confirmation hearing, there was some discussion of why troopers were leaving the agency, but the issue was mostly glossed over. In contrast, there was a lot of discussion about troopers working events at the state house, directing traffic at bike rallies, working on immigration matters, and visiting churches in their communities. All fine things but not appropriate while hundreds of people are dying on the state’s highways. There was no discussion of the sharp increase in deaths on our state’s highways or what actions would be taken in the next four years to reduce the number of deaths.
The Governor has the responsibility to pick a Director for the department that focuses on the safety of our motorists and saving lives. The Senate has the responsibility to ensure that her choice is capable, efficient, and effective. Sadly last week, they both failed our state.
South Carolina Troopers
Troopers: Thank you for sharing this letter. As you no doubt know, my website has been among the only media outlets in South Carolina providing any coverage of the scandals at SCDPS. Hopefully the raising of these concerns will prompt some accountability at this agency. Please keep us in the loop on your efforts.