The South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) is requesting an additional $8.5 million in its base budget this year, including $6 million so it can upgrade to a new computer system it says it badly needs.
The FBI sanctioned SLED earlier this year, saying the agency did not properly maintain its Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS). CJIS lets police officers across the state access a national criminal database to check the backgrounds of people they stop or arrest.
The FBI says SLED needs to make dramatic improvements to the system, or South Carolina risks losing access to it. That means local law enforcement officers would no longer be able to check to see if a person is wanted for charges in another state when they make a traffic stop.
SLED Chief Mark Keel made a formal request for the additional funds during a House Ways & Means subcommittee meeting last week. He says SLED’s IT system is badly in need of an upgrade.
“It’s technology that is old. It’s hardware that is old,” he told South Carolina Radio Network afterwards, “We maintain a lot of servers that are so old that we don’t have contract maintenance on (them) anymore. We can’t get parts anymore.”
South Carolina Sheriffs Association executive director Jeff Moore was blunter: “It simply is not up to the task of driving this system any more. It’d be like you working on a 25-year-old Apple computer.”
Three years ago, SLED had 43 employees working on its IT system. This year, there are 23. “They simply cannot keep the chewing gum and wiring bailing intact with that few people,” Moore said.
Besides budget woes, Keel said part of the problem was that his predecessor Reggie Lloyd unsuccessfully tried to outsource the IT system as a way to save money. That led to two dozen jobs being eliminated. About $1.3 million of SLED’s request next year would rehire those positions.
The FBI severely faulted the agency for not conducting required audits to ensure local police were using the system properly.
Lloyd was not able to be reached Friday. Moore said he believes the previous director had decided to make across-the-board cuts at SLED due to the budget shortfall. “Unfortunately, the CJIS and IT system was the one area that really should’ve not been included in that democratic budget cut because of its level of importance,” he added.
Keel was not casting blame, “The bottom line… we lost a significant amount of dollars in the last three years. The personnel were not there; those audits were not being done. And that’s what we got our hand called on.”
SLED also requested an additional $7.8 million over its base budget from last year– for a total of $31.5 million. Keel said the request would be included as part of the governor’s executive budget.
The legislators on the committee seemed open to an increase. It undoubtedly helped that Rep. Mike Pitts (R-Laurens), the panel’s chairman, is a retired police officer himself.
SLED will have to supply the feds with status updates on its progress as it tries to upgrade the system and get out from under the sanctions, Keel said.