The Sampson County Sheriff’s Office’s Criminal Investigation Division is spread thin, with growing caseloads dictating an additional detective position be added to ease the burden, Sheriff Jimmy Thornton implored county officials.
The sheriff and his department’s administrative staff recently outlined the current staffing, caseloads and highlighted the need to add the position, approval of which the Sampson Board of Commissioners were poised to grant during a recent session. However, no action was taken on the request.
“Over the past 12 years, the Sheriff’s Office has seen an increase in felony case assignments without much growth in our detective staffing, except for an additional juvenile investigator which is mainly funded by Social Services,” Thornton stated
Currently, there are 10 detectives assigned to the Criminal Investigations Division. Those include one captain, one lieutenant, an evidence technician, two juvenile/sex crime investigators, four zone investigators and one floating investigator.
“I am going to be asking for an additional position,” Thornton remarked. That additional person would be a floating investigator, who could be located anywhere from the northern to the southern end of the county.
The base salary of that position would be $35,640. Sworn salary and benefits would tally $53,370.78.
Accompanied by Capt. Eric Pope, Capt. Julian Carr and Lt. Lawrence Dixon, Thornton recently made the formal request to the Board of Commissioners.
“You can see where multiple cases and limited resources lead to citizen frustration. The prioritization of cases often leads to citizen complaints, which in some cases is compounded by evidence processing times at the State Crime Lab,” Thornton stated.
Current caseload shouldered by investigators leads to high stress levels, which has resulted in turnover in the Criminal Investigations Division, the sheriff stated in his request to commissioners. Although the pay plan implementation has been a boost to morale, investigators are still faced with a massive workload, which does not allow them to focus their attention in the best manner.
“Sometimes morale is overtaken by stress,” Pope remarked.
Investigators are also bombarded by phone calls after hours from victims and suspects, which impacts their family life. Mandatory certification training, specialized investigative training and assistance to other jurisdictions is also a constant factor. The extra staff member will not eliminate all the issues, the sheriff said, but will alleviate the matter to some degree.
“Adding one detective is not going to solve all of our problems, but it is going to provide some relief,” Pope said.
Pope talked about what is expected of each of the CID members.
The average caseload for a zone/roaming investigator is approximately 250 cases per year and 100 cases for juvenile investigators. Cases such as homicides can require multiple investigators to assist.
Investigators are responsible for reviewing initial complaints, making contact with victims, collecting evidence, canvassing neighborhoods, developing suspects and following leads. That can mean scouring criminal databases and community pawn shops. There is also the tediousness and time-consuming task of documenting everything they do, Pope said, meaning witness interviews, case notes and supplemental reports all have to be typed.
Investigators are “their own secretary,” typing and transcribing hours of interviews, which takes time away from other cases.
Past that, there is coordination with judicial officials, child medical examiners and advocates and in some cases the District Attorney’s Office. Taking out warrants, making arrests, then preparing an entire case file — then following that case through court — is also part of the job, Pope said.
That all has to be done while still investigating others cases, all of which involved the same cycle.
On average, an investigator spends about 24 to 36 man-hours on a typical investigation, however cases like homicides can push multiple investigators over the course of several weeks, Pope pointed out.
“These things add up,” he said. “It takes its toll.”
“No one sitting in here has any idea of the time that is involved in all of these cases,” Thornton attested. “Their plate is full.”
Investigators often have to prioritize their cases based upon availability of evidence, witnesses and potential leads in order to focus their attention where they can provide the most benefit.
“Of course, if you’re the victim, your crime — no matter how big or small — is the greatest need,” Pope added.
Commissioners lauded the sheriff’s staff on the challenges they face each day and the dedication they show appeared to be ready to grant the request after about 20 minutes of talk.
“Is this something we need to get done right now?” Commissioner Albert Kirby inquired, expressing his willingness to approve the request. “When it comes to this, I have no problem with getting this done now.”
County manager Ed Causey said the board might want to wait for other departmental requests to get a better picture of the budget, noting that the sheriff requested the position effective 2016-17.
“If we could have that on July 1, that would help us,” said Thornton, expressing his thanks to Kirby for the sentiment.
Causey specifically noted a staffing ceiling previously set by the board, which would dictate that another county position be eliminated before the new detective position is approved, unless the board were to modify its previous action to exceed that cap. Commissioners said they needed to do what has to be done to ensure that extra position.
“You have to stay ahead of the game,” said Kirby, “because if you get behind there are consequences.”
“I hear you,” Commissioner Clark Wooten said to the Thornton and his staff, “and I know everyone else hears you.”
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