With budget cuts affecting law enforcement in the state, departments are making cutbacks and resources are becoming less available for front line officers that you may not even be aware exist. The Fugitive Unit with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division apprehended over 400 fugitives in 2008. Since then, the department, which was made up of six exceptional officers just one year ago, has dwindled to three. The arrest numbers have suffered with 68 current apprehensions this year to date. Lt. Donald Keith Johnson, a 30 year veteran of SLED and current Fugitive Unit member, says the loss of man power has affected them but that the team has not lost their focus.
“Our numbers are off, statistically, from where they were a year ago,” said Johnson. “But everybody has got to tighten their belt.
“We do not have a particular criteria for what we do or do not except as far as a case. Some agencies criteria for acceptance of a case is pretty stringent. Ours is stringent too, we help everybody that asks. They make the request to say that they need help, we assist them.”
Johnson said the budget cuts forced members of his team to be reassigned. “Our numbers were cut significantly,” he said. “Back when the budget crisis began, some our agents had specific skills. We had to redirect some of our assets and resources to fill gaps we needed within the division.
“So, we lost three of our guys outstanding. We hope to get them back over time, but, as of now, there are only three (officers) that are permanently assigned to The Fugitive Unit.”
Johnson said that though his team is referred to as The Fugitive Unit, their responsibilities range beyond just fugitives. According to Lt. Johnson, “we’re referred to by the rest of the division as the Fugitive Unit, but probably more accurate, we are the Investigative Support Unit because we don’t focus just on fugitives. We are kind of a jack of all trades. We turn and we burn. We try to turn cases quickly. As quick as we get a lead in, we’ll get out on top of it.
“Specifically, we look for those people who have outstanding warrants within the state of South Carolina, or with ties to the state of South Carolina. We often locate victims. We locate witnesses. We locate anybody that needs to be found.”