Letters to the Editor | Opinion | The Press and Standard
by The Press and Standard | January 31, 2016 5:00 pm
Last Updated: January 31, 2016 at 11:26 pm
Local officers can help with teenagers
As a parent of a teenage boy, 13 years old, I have a hard time sleeping at night, knowing what kind of crazy world my husband and I are trying to raise him in. My husband and I have respectable jobs. We work at a school in Colleton County. I have $50,000 in debt for an education. I did that to make sure that my son doesn’t have to. All we want for our children is for them to do better than we have. If we all can make that happen, upward mobility for our children, this world would be getting somewhere.
My husband and I go to work; we work hard; we send our son to school; we pick him up, go home, eat supper, take showers, go to bed. On the weekends, we get up early, go to a local flea market, come home, work in our yard, keep up the 200 acres we have worked hard for. We are normal, middle-class, respectable people.
However, our son has forgotten this somewhere along the way. In the last six months to a year, he has made new friends in middle school. His grades have dropped. I found evidence of marijuana in his room before Christmas. We have gone rounds with this child. This past weekend, his first weekend off of restriction, he and some friends snuck out of the house and threw a party. There was underage drinking and evidence of pot smoking everywhere. We are at a loss as parents. I am losing my son, quickly. It is breaking my heart.
After finding the remnants of this party on our property, my husband and I decided to call the law. This child is doing grown-up things — he needs to be treated as a grown-up. I first called two friends at the Walterboro City Police Department: Corporal Jacob O’Quinn and Patrolman Ross Hantz. They took time out of their very busy day to sit down with me on Monday morning and listen to me lament the why and how of the situation with my child. They then gave me the best advice they could: call the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office. I live outside of the city. I was scared to do this, thinking my husband and I would be the ones arrested. After all, we are the parents. They told me this would not be the case; they are there to help. And as a matter of fact, I couldn’t have been given better advice.
After speaking to Captain Clint Crouse, he directed me to Corporal Billy Tindal and his trainee, Deputy Raymond Davis. Corporal Tindal called me and gave me his background. He used to be in the narcotics division and has talked to kids many times in the past. After witnessing the exchange between him and my son, it is this man’s calling to work with troubled kids. With Deputy Davis’ big, booming voice and the authority that Corporal Tindal exudes, I hope they scared my son straight while leaving intact the deserved respect of law enforcement.
As parents in need with a teen in trouble, both the City of Walterboro and the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office came to our rescue. I mentioned to Corporal Tindal that I know they had better things to do. His response to me: “This one child can influence five others, who will then influence five more. Maybe by saving this one, I’ll have saved a hundred. Every child deserves our full attention.”
Deputy Davis is new to the force. His son, 25, was in a severe accident due to drunk driving last May which left him with a diminished mental capacity. In December, Deputy Davis graduated from the police academy. He is there to save parents like us from going through the heartache he and his wife have undergone. I could not have asked for better help.
Our law enforcement officers care. I cannot say how grateful I am to them. They all went above and beyond the call of duty and are there to help any one of us. You can’t get that in a bigger city or county, but these guys are why Colleton County is still a good place to raise your kids! Thank you to Corporal Jacob O’Quinn and Patrolman Ross Hantz of the City of Walterboro Police Department for taking the time with me to give advice to a lost parent when you could have treated us and the situation very differently. The sympathy and care you showed to me was much needed. Thank you to Corporal Billy Tindal and Deputy Raymond Davis of the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office for showing up at my home, talking to a child in trouble, calling me on your time off to check on my family, and even offering further support in the future. I have the confidence in my community and law enforcement that we, as a village, can raise our kids right.
Leadership in sheriff’s office could be better
When I was a young man, I spent most of my time searching for something to combat the boredom in Colleton County. Those “things” were usually stupid or illegal. Simultaneously, I had a healthy fear of law enforcement. My father instilled this respect in me.
Edward Chasteen was the sheriff at this time. He defeated “Cutter” Ackerman who was considered corrupt in the eyes of the community. Mr. Chasteen quickly instilled discipline into the ranks of the sheriff’s department, started a physical fitness program to facilitate good order and discipline, and drastically decreased response times. We never knew who, when, where, or how the deputies would operate. One of my family members told me that, while Chasteen was in office, he was too paranoid to walk out on his back porch to smoke a joint. He thought a police officer might be in a ghillie suit, holding a camera, and waiting to arrest him.
Prior to Chasteen’s term, the highway patrol spent a significant time responding because deputies lacked the professional bearing of law enforcement professionals. I can remember a time when I was home on military leave. I started several fights and thought I could take the town. A few days later, my father, Mr. Chasteen, a 911 employee and I sat down to discuss the new 911 system. While in the middle of the conversation, Mr. Chasteen said, “Excuse me Mike (my dad). Son (me), I don’t care who your dad is, you belong to me and I will lock your **** up. I don’t care what colonel comes down to try and get you out.” My father immediately looked at me with that “you are going to die look” and said, “You are returning to your base in three days. I don’t want to see your dumb behind until it is time for your flight to leave.” That one conversation with the sheriff and my dad helped direct me in becoming a productive, decent citizen.
I believe law enforcement professionals are the front line defense to the evil in our communities. Because the sheriff is an elected official, he or she has to define how they will lead and operate; politically and operationally. When the right person holds the office of sheriff, their actions set the conditions for morality, commerce, housing, employment and education. This inspires the population to lead a peaceful and productive lifestyle.
The Army trained me that everything falls on leadership. The officer is in charge of the mission. The Noncommissioned Officer is in charge of the people. Nonetheless, the officer is solely responsible for the success and failure of both mission and people. In 2004, I went to Mount Vernon, Va., with my lovely mother-in-law. While there we met an older man portraying President George Washington. He was an outstanding actor and drew all of us into his world when he spoke. One of the kids asked, “Sir, do they call you General Washington or Mr. President on the plantation?” The kind Mr. Washington replied, “Sir, they call me General. Anyone can be president; not everyone can be a general.”
I take the same mindset regarding leadership. Anyone can be a politician; only very few are true leaders. You can tell if someone is a politician versus a leader. One provides results; the latter blames others for their own mistakes.
I will be returning home in a few years. After traveling around the world to some good and not so good places, my family has become homesick. We miss South Carolina. Family, friends, and food … nothing could be better.
For the past two years, I monitored the criminal activity and the leadership of the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) with the intent of moving my family to the Walterboro area. Initially, I assessed Mr. Strickland had the potential to be sheriff. After the scandals of the previous sheriff, I thought he would be a good alternative. I saw warrants being published on the sheriff’s FaceBook page and people getting arrested, mostly lack of paying child support. There were some drug busts and people were going to jail, but only a tiny percentage compared to the many drug dealers and abusers of hardcore drugs in the county. In my initial analysis, it appeared that the leadership was heading in the right direction. However, as I conducted some research, my assessment took a sharp change in the other direction.
After much consideration, I believe the quality of executive leadership in CCSO is poor. In my opinion the current leadership lacks the ability to apply simple leadership strategies, be innovative, and develop subordinates to disrupt a smarter, more evolving criminal element. Anyone with a little common sense can view Facebook pages in Colleton County, follow the links to friends, and determine that the real criminals know everything about law enforcement officials (including their route times and how they respond). CCSO has the raw talent necessary to disrupt criminal activity, but lacks executive leadership which can prevent, disrupt and prosecute the criminal elements efficiently. Even though there are some convictions, most of it is “low hanging fruit.” Easy convictions might affect crime rate numbers but make no positive impact for public safety. This “low hanging fruit” indicates that a leader cannot define the criminal elements’ intentions, influence and associations.
Since 2012, I noticed a significant increase with violent crime. Criminal elements maintain the freedom to operate within the county jurisdiction unchecked by the Sheriff’s Department.
In the January 21, 2016 Colleton County Crime Report, Mr. Strickland provided the statistics for 2014-2015. These statistics appear good, but there are discrepancies that cause doubt in the rest of the report. According to Mr. Strickland, “The overall incidents of violent crimes were reduced from 128 incidents in 2014 to 97 incidents in 2015, a reduction of 24 percent.” However, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) statistics, total violent crime for Colleton County was 270 in 2014.
The FBI reported 230 aggravated assaults. Mr. Strickland reported only 89.
Some of the statistics reflect the FBI’s report. However, with an election right down the road, a drastic difference in numbers between the FBI’s UCR statistics and Mr. Strickland’s report leaves me with more concerns.
First, if the numbers are incorrect, how many more false reports has CCSO provided since Mr. Strickland’s tenure? Second, what is the motivation behind the inconsistency? Are we being deceived or is there a problem with Mr. Strickland’s ability to track crime? Finally, what are the correct numbers?
Anyone has the ability to manipulate statistics. However, when reports conflict drastically during an election year, the normal person may perceive it as corruption. Mr. Strickland’s report could provide voters with a false sense of security. I see only two reasons for the major discrepencies in this report: incompentence in leadership or outright deception. If Mr. Strickland cannot provide accuracy, then severe incompentence might be the reason. And if it is not incompetence, deception lies at the door. Nonetheless, either reason promotes the market’s perception of our county which is unfavorable.
Bert Sperling, founder of www.bestplaces.net and internationally known expert on cities, has been utilizing credible sources and analysis for U.S. cities in multiple publications for over 20 years. According to bestplaces.net, “Colleton County, South Carolina, violent crime, on a scale from 1 (low crime) to 100, is 56. Violent crime is composed of four offenses: murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. The U.S. average is 41.4. Colleton County, South Carolina, property crime, on a scale from 1 (low) to 100, is 44. Property crime includes the offenses of burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson. The object of the theft-type offenses is the taking of money or property, but there is no force or threat of force against the victims. The US average is 43.5.” Another good site to determine the crime rate is realtor.com. According to this site, Colleton County, has 1% more property crime than South Carolina as a whole, and is 30% above the nation’s average. Colleton County has 28% more personal crime than South Carolina, and when compared to that of United States, is 100% above the national average.” In my assessment, the market is painting a significant picture.
At this time, I cannot determine if this is related to the drug epidemic, evolving gang problem, or both. We will not see the FBI’s report until September 2016; however, I assess that violent crimes will either stay near the same percentage or increase. And let’s be honest with ourselves, as for the minimal decreases in percentage of other types of crime in the county, it is not enough to convince people that Colleton County is a good place to raise a family.
No one wants to build businesses, buy homes, or move to an area where the only advice for property crimes and burglary is for citizens to purchase surveillance cameras. No business owner longs to have assets stolen from his/her property and then have the investigator completely disregard his/her questions or attempt to prosecute the offender. I haven’t met a single community leader who enjoys being ignored when he tries to resolve rumors of racist’s activities within the department. It should be embarrassing to any county after discovering that a sheriff will use four deputies to capture a criminal for a stolen fishing rod, yet will not respond to the valid concerns of citizens. True leaders do not name department awards after themselves because they understand that a true leader is a servant to the people. Proven leaders define that as narcissistic. Maybe it’s like high school where only the cool kids are allowed to sit at certain tables. If you are in the “click”, your crime will be investigated. If not, you will be stuck holding the bag. If your case makes news within the Lowcountry, it may just be pure dumb luck. This lack of accountability to the people of Colleton County depicts a significant lack of leadership within the department. Lack of accountability promotes corruption, also known as an insider threat. Insider threats take bribes, compromise investigations, and target citizens in order to protect political figures. A possible insider threat in a law enforcement department can do much damage to the fabric of the community and undermine any attempt to set those initial conditions for economic development.
In conclusion, our county is working with an “absentee sheriff.” However, many of our deputies have talents, abilities, and the desire to clean up Colleton County and inspire the youth to become decent, productive citizens, but their hands are tied by ineffective leadership. I know for certain that there are enough talented, smart people who can advise a mature sheriff on the atmospherics of their neighborhoods. There are also people with various backgrounds who can bridge the gap between the community and the sheriff’s department with little or no effort.
Colleton County is rich with good citizens who are being ignored by the sheriff’s office. What a waste. We are not using the most effective resources of our good men and women in law enforcement along with the bright minds of our community leaders. The small improvements within the county regarding crime are simply not enough for the people of Colleton County. Mr. Strickland provided conflicting reports of violent crimes within our county. This is either deception or incompentence. If deception, this promotes further corrupt behavior within CCSO, allowing more corruption to seep into other areas in the county. If incompetence, we deserve new leadership. While the market dictates whether people want to invest into the county by starting businesses, raising children, or buying homes, commerce will never see significant improvements until we have an innovative sheriff who can improve response times, provide discipline for his or her subordinates, and destroy corruption within the county.
With the proper strategic leadership, the conditions will be set for Colleton County to surpass Berkeley and Dorchester Counties. In my opinion, it is time for the citizens of Colleton County to take a long, hard look at the facts and implement change. Instead of looking at a candy-coated outward appearance of competence within the sheriff’s office, we should be listening to the community. Politics should have no place in the office of the sheriff. Only a servant leader can truly effect lasting positive change.
Michael J. Garvin