Au­dit crit­i­cal of Sher­iff’s Of­fice ef­forts on traf­fic

The Island Packet (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY ALEX KIN­CAID ak­in­caid@is­land­packet.com

The Beau­fort County Sher­iff’s Of­fice is not do­ing enough to re­duce the high num­ber of car crashes on Hil­ton Head Is­land, in­stead spend­ing too much of its time re­spond­ing to 911 hangups and alarm calls.

That’s one of sev­eral find­ings in a scathing draft of a new au­dit, paid for by the Town of Hil­ton Head, that as­sesses whether town res­i­dents are get­ting their $3.6 mil­lion worth of po­lice ser­vices from the sher­iff’s of­fice each year.

Among the other find­ings by Pub­lic Safety Strate­gies Group, a Mas­sachusetts-based or­ga­ni­za­tion that con­ducted the au­dit: Na­tive Is­lan­ders feel their neigh­bor­hoods lack pa­trols, the sher­iff’s of­fice takes too long to re­spond to men­tal health calls, doesn’t im­ple­ment a data-driven ap­proach to crime and traf­fic safety and isn’t do­ing enough to ad­dress the opi­oid epi­demic.

“This ses­sion be­came a pre­sen­ta­tion by the Sher­iff on what he was do­ing as Sher­iff rather than a time for the PSSG to in­ter­view BCSO mem­bers about op­er­a­tions,” the au­dit said.

BCSO dis­putes many of the find­ings. In a let­ter to the town writ­ten by Lt. Col. Allen Hor­ton, BCSO claims the con­sul­tant — who it says vis­ited the of­fice for a sin­gle two-hour meet­ing in Fe­bru­ary — can­celed meet­ings and never resched­uled and did not ask ques­tions about pro­vided in­for­ma­tion. The re­port, BCSO said, is rid­dled with in­ac­cu­ra­cies and mis­con­strued data.

“The thing that gets me about the study is it’s use­less be­cause it doesn’t of­fer any in­for­ma­tion you can uti­lize,” said Tan­ner, who be­lieves the au­dit is po­lit­i­cal pay­back by town lead­ers with whom he has dis­agreed. “I don’t know what the town paid the group to do this, but it was

way too much.”

Ac­cord­ing to the con­tract with PSSG, the town paid $25,700.

Kym Craven, di­rec­tor of PSSG, de­clined to com­ment for this story, not­ing the group’s pol­icy to not speak to the me­dia prior to speak­ing with a client.

The au­dit is sched­uled to be dis­cussed for the first time at Tues­day’s meet­ing of the town’s In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal and Pub­lic Safety Com­mit­tee, ac­cord­ing to its chair­man Bill Harkins.

‘BE­ING AC­COUNT­ABLE TO TAX­PAY­ERS’

Town Coun­cil be­gan ques­tion­ing whether the sher­iff’s of­fice met ex­pec­ta­tions in 2016.

Harkins said Thurs­day it was prompted by Town Coun­cil want­ing to know if they were get­ting what they were pay­ing for. Its an­nual con­tract with the BCSO is the town’s third largest gen­eral fund ex­pen­di­ture, be­hind per­son­nel and op­er­at­ing costs, rep­re­sent­ing roughly 4.5 per­cent of this year’s $ 79.6 mil­lion bud­get.

Tan­ner, how­ever, said the au­dit was sparked by a few town lead­ers — in­clud­ing Mayor David Ben­nett — who were un­happy with his op­po­si­tion to an Iron­man com­pe­ti­tion that coun­cil wanted to bring to the is­land in 2015. Tan­ner op­posed the com­pe­ti­tion be­cause he said shut­ting down part of U.S. 278 posed safety con­cerns.

In ad­di­tion, Tan­ner said he irked those same lead­ers by not pre­sent­ing the sher­iff’s of­fice bud­get to the town in 2016. He said those dis­cus­sions should be be­tween the county and town, and not in­volve the sher­iff. (The county pays for the sher­iff’s of­fice bud­get in full, and the town re­im­burses a por­tion to the county, ac­cord­ing to the town’s di­rec­tor of fi­nance John Troyer.)

Ben­nett said in a text mes­sage re­sponse that the per­for­mance au­dit had “noth­ing to do with the Iron­man,” and “this is not about per­son­al­i­ties and peo­ple. It’s about be­ing ac­count­able to tax­pay­ers.”

The pur­pose, he said, was to find out if Hil­ton Head res­i­dents were “get­ting a good re­turn for their con­sid­er­able in­vest­ment.” He de­clined fur­ther com­ment.

The al­ter­na­tive to con­tract­ing with the sher­iff’s of­fice would likely be the is­land get­ting its own po­lice force.

That would be an ex­pen­sive en­deavor. For fis­cal year 2019, Bluffton paid $6.6 mil­lion for its 58 full-time em­ployee de­part­ment, ac­cord­ing to spokesper­son Deb­bie Sz­panka. And Beau­fort al­lo­cated $4.4 mil­lion for its 54 sworn of­fi­cers, ac­cord­ing to po­lice spokesper­son Patrick Sch­mucker.

But, de­ter­min­ing whether Hil­ton Head should have its own po­lice force was not a cat­a­lyst for the au­dit, ac­cord­ing to town man­ager Steve Ri­ley.

“There was ac­tu­ally a study that looked at that more than 15 years ago,” Ri­ley said. “It was con­cluded then that it would be sig­nif­i­cantly more ex­pen­sive (than the cur­rent ar­range­ment). And now with an­nual state bud­get caps, it’s not a prac­ti­cal con­ver­sa­tion. You can’t raise taxes enough to do that with­out mak­ing se­ri­ously dam­ag­ing cuts else­where.”

The most re­cent sher­iff’s of­fice con­tract — re­newed on a monthly ba­sis since the last one ex­pired in Jan­uary — spells out the ba­sic ser­vices to be pro­vided to the town. Among those, at least four pa­trol units and at least one pa­trol unit su­per­vi­sor on duty 24/7, three crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tors, two deputies to en­force nar­cotics laws and a vic­tim’s ad­vo­cate.

Tan­ner said there are 42 deputies ded­i­cated to the is­land, but on a given day, there’s about 70 deputies pa­trolling South of the Broad, in­clud­ing Hil­ton Head. This ex­ceeds what is re­quired by the con­tract.

The au­dit pointed out pa­trol staffing ex­ceeded what is needed to cover calls for ser­vice.

‘RE­SIS­TANCE’?

More than 25 meet­ings were held with com­mu­nity stake­hold­ers, town depart­ments, gated com­mu­ni­ties and oth­ers, ac­cord­ing to the au­dit. There were also five sched­uled meet­ings with the sher­iff’s of­fice, which were turned into a group meet­ing by Tan­ner.

There was also a “re­sis­tance” from the sher­iff’s of­fice when it came to data col­lec­tion, the au­dit said. BCSO did not pro­vide all data re­quested, and did not al­ways pro­vide it in the re­quested for­mat. In ad­di­tion, PSSG claims it re­quested to par­tic­i­pate in ride-alongs, but the re­quest was de­nied by the sher­iff.

Tan­ner said he did deny that re­quest, as ride-alongs were not part of the study. Re­gard­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion, Tan­ner said he took the op­por­tu­nity to give PSSG back­ground on the sher­iff’s of­fice.

“It’s a big ma­chine, with a lot of mov­ing parts,” Tan­ner said. “What I did was I took the op­por­tu­nity to ex­plain ev­ery­thing. ...”

He also said the con­sul­tant was given ev­ery piece of data re­quested.

Over­all, BCSO says it was “dis­ap­pointed” in the re­port and notes mul­ti­ple in­stances of chart and graph in­ac­cu­ra­cies and ex­am­ples of con­flict­ing in­for­ma­tion.

Ri­ley said though the au­dit did seem to have “back and forth” in­for­ma­tion, the group did “OK” and pro­duced a “de­cent work prod­uct.”

“The bot­tom line is they (BCSO) do a pretty good job, but prob­a­bly could do more in the area of pub­lic out­reach and com­mu­ni­ca­tion,” Ri­ley said.

THE AU­DIT’S FIND­INGS

ABCSO isn’t do­ing enough to curb the high num­ber of car crashes on the is­land.

The sher­iff’s of­fice does not ap­ply for traf­fic grants or im­ple­ment traf­fic safety pro­grams, the au­dit reads. They also do not im­ple­ment a “data-driven ap­proach to crime and traf­fic safety (DDACTS),” which uses crime and traf­fic data to de­ter­mine where law en­force­ment and other re­sources should go, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional In­sti­tute of Jus­tice. The au­dit calls DDACTS a “best prac­tice.”

More ed­u­ca­tion and “high vis­i­bil­ity pa­trols” are needed, along with ad­di­tional sig­nage, ac­cord­ing to the au­dit. The town is cur­rently dis­cussing pos­si­ble safety im­prove­ments to some is­land in­ter­sec­tions.

In the let­ter to the town, BCSO said it has speed sign trail­ers and dig­i­tal mes­sage boards. It also said that traf­fic en­force­ment is de­ter­mined by a weekly anal­y­sis of crashes. Spokesper­son Capt. Bob Bro­mage called it a “sim­i­lar ap­proach” to DDACTS.

BCSO spends too much A time re­spond­ing to 911 hangups and alarm calls.

Based on charts in the au­dit, be­tween 2015 and 2017, 11 per­cent of all calls were 911 hangups and 16 per­cent were alarms.

The con­sul­tant sug­gests the town im­ple­ment a fee to peo­ple who have mul­ti­ple false alarm calls and give gated com­mu­ni­ties more power to in­ves­ti­gate. BCSO could also ed­u­cate the pub­lic on “proper 911 use.”

Tan­ner said gated com­mu­ni­ties al­ready re­spond to alarm calls, and said the sher­iff’s of­fice will con­tinue to re­spond to all 911 hangups and alarm calls.

Re­sponse times are too long A for some calls for ser­vice, in­clud­ing men­tal health, med­i­cal and over­dose calls.

The au­dit says re­sponse times range from just over 6 min­utes for over­doses and al­most 30 min­utes for men­tal health calls.

The sher­iff’s of­fice, how­ever, says the data was not read cor­rectly. For men­tal health calls, trans­port time was in­cluded in the av­er­age, Hor­ton said.

“There’s the time in which we get dis­patched, the time in which we re­spond, but quite of­ten, if we trans­port that per­son to the hos­pi­tal for eval­u­a­tion, we’re with them for an ex­tended pe­riod of time,” Hor­ton said. “It could be two or three hours.”

Na­tive Is­lan­ders feel igA nored.

Based on in­ter­views with the con­sul­tant, some Na­tive Is­lan­ders re­port fights and open drug deal­ing in their neigh­bor­hoods, adding that BCSO does not pa­trol the com­mu­ni­ties enough. Some said res­i­dents don’t call BCSO for help be­cause they don’t be­lieve they will get a re­sponse.

Tan­ner, how­ever, said it was “flat out un­true to sug­gest we don’t have a good re­la­tion­ship with the Na­tive Is­lan­ders.”

There is a di­vide be­tween A what the com­mu­nity wants and what they are get­ting.

The con­sul­tant sug­gests more com­mu­nity out­reach, and a “more col­lab­o­ra­tive re­la­tion­ship” would solve is­sues. Com­mu­nity mem­bers were “vo­cal” about their con­cerns over a lack of in­ter­ac­tion with the com­mu­nity, the au­dit said, though no spe­cific ex­am­ples were given.

Hor­ton said the au­dit’s claims are “vague” state­ments with­out in­for­ma­tion to back them up.

BCSO claims it is “strongly con­nected” to com­mu­ni­ties on the is­land, par­tic­i­pat­ing in 62 events each year as well as pro­vid­ing Nixle alerts to keep the com­mu­nity in­formed.

Pa­trol staffing ex­ceeds the A need.

Based on a re­view of July 2016 data, more deputies were staffed than needed to cover calls for ser­vice, the au­dit said. PSSG sug­gests a full staffing anal­y­sis be con­ducted.

Tan­ner said as a tourist des­ti­na­tion, the num­ber of law en­force­ment of­fi­cers de­ployed “changes all the time.”

“It can go to 40,000 ( peo­ple) one week to 75,000 the next,” Tan­ner said. “We have to be in a po­si­tion to be flex­i­ble and roll with it and make sure we are in a po­si­tion to pro­vide ser­vices to Hil­ton Head.”

Com­mu­nity mem­bers feel A BCSO does not fo­cus on com­mu­nity prob­lems, such as tran­sient pop­u­la­tions and the opi­oid epi­demic. No ad­di­tional de­tails were in­cluded in the au­dit.

Bro­mage said through pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion, events and drug drop off boxes, the county has seen a “sig­nif­i­cant de­cline in opi­oid over­doses.”

DREW MARTIN dmartin@is­land­packet.com

Beau­fort County Sher­iff P.J. Tan­ner lis­tens to a re­porter’s ques­tion Thurs­day about the Mas­sachusetts-based Pub­lic Safety Strate­gies Group re­port. The con­sult­ing firm was hired by the Town of Hil­ton Head to de­ter­mine if the the town re­ceives the proper amount of ser­vice by the sher­iff’s of­fice. Among the find­ings, the au­dit said BCSO isn’t do­ing enough to curb the high num­ber of car crashes on the is­land.

DREW MARTIN dmartin@is­land­packet.com

Du­pli­cated doc­u­ments were on dis­play on Thurs­day to il­lus­trate the years of data given to a Mas­sachusetts-based con­sult­ing firm hired by the Town of Hil­ton Head to de­ter­mine if the town was re­ceiv­ing the proper amount of ser­vices for what it was spend­ing on the law en­force­ment agency. Sher­iff P.J. Tan­ner, cen­ter, and Col. Allen Hor­ton, left, took is­sue with the group’s no­ta­tion that the of­fice was un­co­op­er­a­tive in shar­ing data with the group as noted in the re­port.

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