All three heads of Laurens County law enforcement agencies say they – like the rest of South Carolina – continue to operate shorthanded.
But all implied that a state of need has become business as usual.
“It’s just part of the business right now,” said Laurens Police Chief Chrissie Cofield, echoing a statement made moments earlier by Clinton Police Chief Sonny Ledda. Both Cofield and Ledda said their departments are in need of about five officers apiece. Laurens County Sheriff Don Reynolds said the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office needs “two or three” more deputies.
“I have really been blessed in the sense that my workforce has been my calling card. The people have I hired since I took office are the result of prior relationships,” Reynolds said. “Shift-wise, I’m probably two or three people down, but from what I understand other departments are in a lot worse shape, so I can’t really fuss too much.”
Even so, the LCSO has reached out on social media in an effort to let potential recruits know it is hiring.
“We’re always looking,” said Ledda. “We’re partnering with Piedmont Tech, and we’ve been to one of their job fairs. We do go to the Upper Savannah Council of Governments job fair in Greenwood, and we depend on word of mouth.
“It’s a process since the change from public safety. We have separate police and fire.”
According to statistics reported from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy, about half of its graduates end up leaving law enforcement within a year of graduation.
Recent changes in the way recruits are trained at the academy are designed to help with recruitment and retention.
One change is what amounts to a mentoring program that last four weeks, pairing recruits with officers from the agencies they expect to be working with after graduation.
Cofield said she likes the changes.
“It gives us one-on-one time with our recruit before they start their training,” she said. “We have an active hand in developing them for the officer we want for our organization. … Hopefully the failure rate and dropout rate will drop at the academy.”
“That may help some people decide they’re not right for the job and eliminate sending them on to the academy,” Reynolds said.
Issues still remain, including a comparatively low pay scale for Laurens County versus the rest of the Upstate, and finding ways to keep recruits from the local area at home.
“We just have to be innovative with how we approach people,” said Cofield. “It’s difficult because times have changed, and we have to find a way to appeal to them, and make them want to stay. . . . I’ve said this a thousand times – it’s not just about catching bad guys, it’s about giving back to the community.”
She said she has reached out to several former local high school athletes who she thinks could be a good fit for her department.
“A couple of them have bit, so now we’re waiting on one of them to turn 21, and we’ll see what happens.”