Crime & Public Safety

Town amendment would shift traffic deputies to general patrol

An amendment that would allow the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office to scale back the number of deputies on traffic patrol and increase manpower at late-night bars on Hilton Head Island has Town Council support, members said Tuesday.

But before voting on the measure, the panel wants to make sure re-directing those forces won't hurt traffic enforcement.

"We would be reducing forces for ticketing and traffic duty, so we want to find out what that would affect," Councilman Marc Grant said.

If approved, the change would end a requirement that four deputies work traffic duty on the island. Currently, the four deputies must work traffic patrol from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, according to town law.

The change would free Sheriff P.J. Tanner to assign deputies based on need, he said Tuesday.

It would expand their duties to include responding to burglaries, patrolling areas with frequent car break-ins and policing late-night bars, he said.

"They'll be deployed where the call volumes are the highest," Tanner said Tuesday night. "This way we won't have them riding down the Cross Island Parkway at 9 a.m., when the need for service isn't high."

He acknowledged there might be fewer tickets written if the deputies are redirected.

But he said the combined forces of the Sheriff's Office and the S.C. Highway Patrol has island traffic "sufficiently covered."

"We'll still write tickets, but we'll also have the flexibility to use these deputies for special shifts," he said.

The amendment comes after council declined to give Tanner money for more deputies for the coming year's budget.

In May, the sheriff asked for $437,567 to pay for three extra deputies to patrol the island.

Instead, council decided to compromise by giving the existing force more flexibility.

Town manager Steve Riley said he thinks the amendment is a good use of town resources. He said traffic problems have become less of an issue now.

"I think traffic enforcement was a much bigger issue years ago when council wanted a dedicated traffic enforcement team," he said.

Mayor Drew Laughlin agreed, saying traffic was more of a preoccupation before the town made road and traffic light improvements. He pointed to the Cross Island Parkway as one example of those improvements.

He said the amendment would only make official a responsibility the sheriff already has.

"Frankly I think the whole thing gives the sheriff the powers to do what I'm sure he already does, which is use his resources in the best way possible."

The panel will discuss the amendment further at the Public Safety Committee meeting July 7.

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