In response to death threats from gang members allegedly involved in the Nov. 4 shooting death of Chester City Councilman Odell Williams, Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood will ask county officials for money to hire four more deputies.
At a Chester County Council meeting Monday night, Underwood will have to ask the group, with whom he recently battled in court over control of the county’s 911 system, for more money and their cooperation.
Underwood had to call in State Law Enforcement Division agents, officers from the Chester and Rock Hill police departments and York County deputies to help identify and catch the five men now charged in connection with Williams’ shooting, which happened just two blocks from Williams’ home and masonry business.
County Council members say the cash-strapped county will be hard-pressed to find money to hire more cops despite a “a gang situation that has to be dealt with.”
During the investigation into Williams’ death – when police rousted people with suspected gang ties – gang members threatened the lives of investigators, Underwood said – including putting a bounty on the sheriff’s head. Underwood responded by saying he had “declared war on gangs in Chester County” and that deputies would keep the public safe despite having only five patrol officers working on any given shift.
The county, with 33,000 people across 580 square miles, is one of the poorest in the state. Underwood, elected in 2012, is a retired State Law Enforcement Division agent.
At Monday’s meeting, Underwood and his command staff will explain to County Council members that hiring four more deputies would add one patrolman per shift.
“We want to explain to the council exactly what we are up against out here and see if there is any way to get more people,” Chief Deputy Robert Sprouse said.
County Council Vice Chairman Joe Branham said the cost of hiring more deputies will be difficult to cover, and the council likely will ask Underwood how he is using the deputies he has now to combat the gang problem. The county recently spent more than $40,000 to bring the sheriff’s office’s computer system into compliance with state and federal standards.
“Anybody in Chester has concern after what happened to Odell Williams,” Branham said, “and the gang situation clearly has to be dealt with.
“We will be glad to look at this, but I don’t know what rock to look under for the money.”
The killing of Williams – a retired Chester police officer – is “unacceptable to all of Chester,” county councilman Alex Oliphant said, and it is also unacceptable that deputies are being threatened by gangs.
“It is never acceptable that anyone would try to intimidate the police, who protect the public,” he said.
Oliphant said he understands that the sheriff’s office must ask for help, but like Branham, he said finding money is a problem.
“But it needs to be looked at,” Oliphant said.