February 20, 2011

Where Did SLED Come From, What Do They Do?

February 15, 2011: SLED was created in 1947 by Governor Strom Thurmond. It stands for: State Law Enforcement Division.

SLED's primary functions are to: conduct primary investigations, run a forensic laboratory, manage concealed weapons permits/perform background checks, alcohol licensing and enforcement, sales, bars, clubs, restaurants and liquor stores, and manage a sex offender registry and data base.

On the investigative side, they bring long-term investigations into play such as: arson, bomb teams (involved with Homeland Security), crimes against children, deaths of vulnerable adults, i.e., nursing homes.

SLED has created centers of intelligence and operations of fusions centers where all information is fused and disseminated out to the local law enforcement agencies. They help in connecting the dots from a federal level all the way down to a local level.

SLED also works closely with ports security and protection. SLED conducts surveillance and tracking of suspicious individuals. They work closely with A.T. F., U.S. Marshals, the National Guard, D.E.A., etc. This occurs in the Fusion Data Center where information is collected and shared with a wide variety of agencies.

The SLED director stated that in the last decade South Carolina, per capita, was the most violent state in the union. He said that there has been an explosion of gang activity recently. Now it's more in the rural counties than the urban counties, i.e., Colleton County. The activity centers on drugs and violence. Dealers from N.Y., N.J., and Philly are moving here to take advantage of the drug market and the demand for drugs in the State. He said that the Mexican drug trafficking has become a far more prevalent element in our society, dealing in Meth., cocaine, marijuana, heroin, ecstasy and other types of drugs.

A few years ago, Miami was the hub for drugs importation. Then it moved to Atlanta. In the past several years, that center in Atlanta was broken up and has now moved primarily to the suburbs. From there it has migrated to SC, NC, and Tennessee. "These groups are more violent than anything we've seen before. They've stepped up their ability to counter law enforcement officials. They are better armed; they ward vests and are very very violent!" He stated that "This past year they stole more than a billion in gas and oil from pipelines alone… and that's before they even sell drugs." Recently within a 24 hours period, nation wide, 11 police officers were shot, two of them are dead. Now only SWAT teams are called out to serve drug warrants because they are so lethal and so dangerous.

In recent investigations and wire taps, the FBA, ATF and DEA agents stated that every one of them was clearly tied back to Mexico. What they have discovered is primarily narcotics and cash. He stated that the biggest threat of all in our country and state is VIOLENT CRIME. "Statistics and trends for this state do not look good, re: the amount of drugs and money coming in." He said that budgetary constraints have translated into the fact that "we only have one half of the amount of money and agents that we had three or four years ago." He said that "we have shifted to a different skill set in personal… the cuts ARE hurting us."

Respectfully submitted by: Bill Christian, Keyway Committee

February 11, 2011

Smith, Cameron Outline Port Challenges

FEB. 8, 2011: If you look at the hard, stark differences between the ports of Charleston and Savannah, it should be as plain as the nose on your face which offers a better access over time to the new super cargo ships that have already started arriving: the Charleston port.

That's the message brought to Rotarians by longtime waterfront leader Whit Smith and John Cameron, executive director of the Charleston Branch Pilots' Association.

In the simplest of terms, it will cost about $200 million to $300 million to deepen the Charleston harbor and approach to 48 feet to accommodate cargo ships that eventually will carry the equivalent of 5,000 40-foot containers. But just to get the Savannah to the depth currently offered by Charleston's port would cost $600 million - and that would only offer one-way traffic in and out of the Savannah port. (Interestingly, environmental mitigation to advance Savannah's dredging plan would cost $200 million - almost the full cost of what it would take to upgrade Charleston's port completely, Smith said.)

For now, however, what stands in the way of Charleston's deepening moving forward is a $400,000 federal study that requires federal - not local or state - money. The only way to get federal money is through a congressional earmark, which is not likely to happen with major opposition by U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, or by President Obama including the project in his budget. There's not, as Smith said, a quick fix. "It comes down to political clout," he said.

Smith and Cameron also offered several interesting facts about the port:

- Pilots here guided 4,200 ships into the harbor in 2010, a drop of 1,000 trips compared to 2005.

- The association is home to 20 pilots, 11 boat captains, five radio dispatchers and three other staff members. It has two 75-foot pilot boats and a 40-foot shuttle launch.

- A current "supership" that can dock in Charleston is capable of 8,500 TEUs (20-foot-equivalent containers). A recent ship was 1,164 feet long, 143 feet wide and had a depth draw of 48 feet. "This will be the norm in the next two or three years," Smith said.

- Three problems with the plan to alter Savannah harbor now: (a) the channel isn't long enough; (b) the proposed plan doesn't offer a wide enough channel to accommodate two-way traffic; and (c) the proposed channel route infringes on an exclusionary LNG (liquefied natural gas) safety zone that ships aren't supposed to enter.

- Of the ports in the Southeast coast (Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah and Jacksonville), Charleston is best positioned with the deepest harbor now, Cameron said. Last year, for example, the Charleston port accommodated 57 ships that were too deep for Savannah, he said.

Submitted by Andy Brack, Keyway Committee

February 4, 2011

Navy Brig & It's Partnership with Local Non-Profit

February 1, 2011: Rotarian Jim Geffert introduced today's speaker, Commander Ray Drake, with a childhood anecdote recounting the Commander's first air show at 12 that provided the inspiration to join the armed forces. Commissioned in May of 1992, Cmdr. Drake's notable military career is evident in his multiple awards and decorations.

During his successful career and promotion to Commanding Officer, Cmdr. Drake explained that he was given 3 placement choices: recruiting, working at an air field in South America or at the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston. The decision was swayed by his father's advice, as he noted that "corrections is a growth industry!"

Cmdr. Drake gave a comprehensive outline of the Navy Brig, one of the largest military prisons in the country. He explained the most important role of the Brig is "preparing them [the offenders] to be productive citizens," as 99.9% of them will transition to civilian life upon their release. This crucial "preparation" is successfully executed using a military model and "tight team concept" and results in the Brig's impressive <30% return rate versus the state's 75-80% average rate.

In addition to its remarkable low return rate, the Brig's true success is evident in its flawless, 7 year consecutive 100% accreditation score, a feat no other military prison has achieved. Cmdr. Drake explained the rigorous accreditation process involves more than 531 standards, all of which have to be met in order to receive a 100% score.

The Brig's impressive "self sustained facility," including multiple 80 bed housing units and 240 multi-service staff coupled with their "holistic programming aspect" are the success factors that shape productive and educated prisoners. All inmates are required to work and are fortunate to have a myriad of selections, including sail marking, carpentry, signage and automotive. One of the most coveted jobs is the newly integrated dog training program.

Cmdr. Drake facilitated the Brig's partnership with local non-profit Carolina Canines for Service, Inc. He recognized not only the benefit for the combat-wounded veteran receiving the service dog, but the immeasurable impact the partnership would provide for both the prisoners and Brig facility and staff.

The service dogs, rescued from local Charleston shelters, are x-rayed and tested for temperament. Similarly, the applying prisoners are screened for personality and compatibility. When matched, the service dog and prisoner become 24/7 companions: eating, sleeping and working together. The participating prisoners not only receive viable job/pet training, they are also eligible for continuing education credits at local universities. Cmdr. Drake noted the benefits reach not only the prisoner, but the facility and staff as the presence of the service dogs has "calmed tension levels" and boosted staff morale as many are allowed to take the dogs home with them on the weekends.

This win-win program is an inspiration to all involved, including the local Charleston community. Cmdr. Drake explained that donations such as hotel rooms for the wounded warrior matched with the dogs and local veterinarians' time and support are "critical" to the program's success. Throughout his presentation, Cmdr. Drake repeatedly thanked the community and Rotary audience for their support.

At the conclusion of the presentation, the Rotary audience was treated to "Titus, the visiting service dog" and Rick Hairstone, Carolina Canine for Service's President & CEO, demonstration. Titus successfully showed off his laundry skills, coin retrieving ability and most impressively, his retrieval talents following Rick's green laser pointer.

Submitted by Teal Van Saun, Keyway Committee