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OUR VIEW: Understaffed sheriff's offices concerning for future

South Dakota's sheriff offices are significantly understaffed. It's a common theme we hear that leaves us concerned about the future of law enforcement in some areas of our state. We ask our sheriffs and their deputies to cover mostly rural areas...

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South Dakota's sheriff offices are significantly understaffed.

It's a common theme we hear that leaves us concerned about the future of law enforcement in some areas of our state.

We ask our sheriffs and their deputies to cover mostly rural areas, of which there are thousands and thousands of miles. We ask them to be available 24 hours a day, seven days per week, and 365 days per year.

They're tasked with responding to a variety of calls - cattle on the loose, car crashes, drug busts and serious crimes like murders. South Dakota sheriffs and deputies are jacks-of-all-trades.

And while this is not an ideal situation in itself, many of these law enforcement departments have only two or, if they're lucky, three full-time employees.

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What's interesting is three full-time officers get scheduled to cover 120 hours, but a week holds 168 hours. It's unreasonable to believe these officers should be expected to be on duty all the time, but they're always on call.

So why the worry now? Sheriff's offices have been handling these duties for years, right?

Well, crime is up - significantly. According to a report from the South Dakota Attorney General's Office, South Dakota law enforcement officers reported 71,014 offenses in 2015, a 9 percent increase from 2014. There were more murders, homicides and drug offenses in 2015 compared to the previous year.

We also consider the state's increasing population, which typically means crime statistics will likely continue upward. More people equals more crime.

What does this mean for South Dakota's sheriff's offices?

It means longer days with more calls and additional responsibility. Whereas city and state law enforcement will be able to combat some of these issues in the future with hires from additional tax dollars, counties will continue to be underfunded.

So with more crime, more people and more calls, who's going to want to sign up to work in a sheriff's office when they're already leaned on so heavily?

We only foresee our rural law enforcement officers getting burned out and look elsewhere for careers. That's clearly not good for South Dakota and its wide range of open area.

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There's obviously no easy solution to help boost the coverage of sheriff's offices, but it is a discussion that needs to be held.

We understand there are times when these offices are boringly quiet, but it's important to remember we need these officers always on the ready.

Related Topics: OUR VIEWCRIME
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