COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - As a statement of protest, a state trooper publicly resigned before lawmakers and SCDPS Director Leroy Smith in a meeting on Monday.
Sgt. David Whatley says this February would mark his 29th year working with the Highway Patrol. He's stationed with Troop 5, in Florence. But on Monday morning, he took the podium before a committee of House member, to testify on what he calls issues within the state agency he says force him out.
"We are disgruntled with the leadership of our agency," Whatley said.
Whatley personally handed over his letter of resignation to Smith, who sat behind the spot where Whatley stood. He choked up when he pulled out his letter.
"I'm turning in my letter of resignation because I cannot effectively do my job. It's tough to walk away from something like this. It's tough to walk away from something you love. But you have someone destroying it, and I can't fix it," Whatley said.
Smith took the letter, and replied, "thank you."
"What's happened is, the troopers are constantly getting reprimanded for minor infractions almost to the point to where they're scared to do their job," Whatley told WIS after he testified before the Legislative Oversight Committee.
According to Whatley, the breaking point was his reprimand for handing-over a traffic incident's DVD to the wrong person - from an incident he responded to while off-duty, to keep someone from driving with children, drunk.
"My agency has accused me of wrongdoing and I can actually…my version of things. It speaks the truth," he said.
House members have been studying issues within the Department of Public Safety for months, like recruitment, retention, and low morale. A survey conducted by the Inspector General shows 58 percent of employees believe morale is poor.
"The large majority doesn't feel the Department of Public Safety's upper command has our back," Whatley said.
But Director Smith told lawmakers he is already making changes for the better, after their last meeting and its findings through the Inspector General-- that over the last FY2017, the rate at which employees leave is up.
"We're using the climate survey as a tool to study and enhance employee morale. Open lines of communication from headquarters to the field and back to headquarters. We want to remove barriers to job performance and give employees more of a voice in the process," Smith said.
Some committee members have called for Smith to be replaced, but that's up to the governor.
"We need to look at the person who's heading up this agency, and needs to put them on probation or remove them of their job because the men and women at the Highway Patrol are doing all they can do, but it looks like the trouble is at the top," Rep. Bill Hixon (R- Aiken) said.
A governor's spokesman, Brian Symmes, says the governor is working with Smith to make changes.
In response to recruitment concerns, Highway Patrol staff told lawmakers on Monday they've changed training to get more employees through faster, and on the roads sooner.