Garrett seeking third term as county’s top law enforcement officer
by Robert Joseph Baker | April 7, 2016 5:05 am
Last Updated: April 6, 2016 at 10:16 pm
Clarendon County Sheriff Randy Garrett has always considered the county’s law enforcement agency “an office, not a department.”
“I’ve always said that I don’t believe in a sheriff’s department; I believe in a sheriff’s office,” he said. “People have the say who sits in this office every four years, and if they feel the agency has fallen short, they need to make a change.”
Garrett is asking voters to give him their confidence for four more years. He filed March 24 for the June Democratic primary, and will face opposition from retired state Department of Natural Resources Capt. Tim Baxley at the polls June 14. With no Republican running for the office, June’s winner will technically be sheriff-elect.
“I enjoy what I do and I love the people I serve and the people I work with,” Garrett said. “Law enforcement is all I’ve been doing for 41 years. I think we’ve had success over my eight years as sheriff. We are always striving to be better and serve the people who have put their trust in us.”
A graduate of the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy, Garrett was elected sheriff in 2008 and won re-election in 2012. He previously served as Manning Police chief for 11 years and as a patrol captain with the Clarendon County Sheriff’s Office for nearly two decades prior to that.
“Our motto in the sheriff’s office since I took office involves putting our citizens first,” Garrett said. “We have goals that we set out to reach each and every day, and we are meeting those goals. As long as I am able to continue to serve, I want to do that for the citizens of Clarendon County and the people that work with me.”
With more than four decades of law enforcement experience, Garrett has seen numerous changes in the way officers go about their duties.
“Especially in law enforcement these days, one thing about it: It’s expensive,” Garrett said. “Thankfully, we have a good County Council and administrator who understand the needs we have to do our duties.”
Garrett said with all the technology required within patrol cars, the vehicles can cost more than $50,000 each.
“The average patrol car now, with nothing special about it to start with, it will run you about $26,000 to $27,000,” Garrett noted. “That’s just the car. An SUV can be $2,000 more. But the equipment and technology you have to put in it, that can add up to as much as the purchase of the car itself.”
Garrett said the expensive equipment is worth it, however, if it protects the residents of Clarendon County.
“The public has a right for all law enforcement agencies to be transparent, and one of the technological changes we have implemented – body cameras – have made us more transparent to our citizens,” Garrett said.
Clarendon County was one of the first counties whose law enforcement wore body cameras voluntarily. State lawmakers have worked in the last two years to make the practice mandatory for all agencies statewide.
“Long before they came into question, we had body cameras,” Garrett said. “Our cars are equipped and our deputies are as well. It’s not cheap, but the citizens have a right to know what’s going on. When we have situations that come up and citizens have questions, the video shows it like it is.”
“I completely understand their right to know and don’t have a problem with it,” Garrett said.
Garrett thanked County Administrator David Epperson and Council Chairman Dwight Stewart and his fellow council members for understanding the need for such technological changes well in advance of neighboring agencies.
“I tip my hat to my administrator; he has worked with us and made sure we’ve had the technology that we needed, especially the cameras,” Garrett said.
In his time as sheriff, Garrett said he has implemented cooperative efforts between local law enforcement agencies – including the Summerton, Turbeville and Manning police departments – along with creating the sheriff office’s Community Action Team.
“Deputies with this team work within their communities, especially the ones in which we have a lot of crime and break-ins,” Garrett said. “They work with the citizens and civic groups. They are out in public being seen.”
Garrett also created the county’s Interstate Crime Enforcement (ICE) Team, which works against drug and money trafficking and identity theft on Interstate 95.
“A lot of people like to think it’s just drugs, and some of it is,” Garrett said. “But one of the biggest crimes now is identity theft. We’ve made some major busts when our ICE team is working.”
Garrett said in the first 90 days of 2016, ICE team deputies confiscated more than $350,000 in drug-related cash, along with thousands of fake gift and credit cards frequently used in identity crimes. In 2014, the team made the largest cocaine haul for all of South Carolina, seizing 121 pounds – or 55 kilos – of powder cocaine, 10 times the highest amount previously found during one incident in Clarendon County.
And Wednesday, the team confiscated more than $800,000 in bundled cash that is likely tied to the drug trade.
“We’ve had some major busts on the interstate,” Garrett said. “Clarendon County is the halfway point between Miami and New York City. So we see everything come through here.”
Garrett’s deputies have also been responsible starting in his tenure as sheriff with courthouse security. State law and former Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal mandated during Garrett’s first term as sheriff that security be tightened in all county courthouses.
This meant one door in and out of the courthouse for everyone, with metal detectors monitored by deputies. Deputies are also in every courtroom for guilty pleas and trials.
“You have to provide that security, not only because of state law, but because you need to protect the people, the judges and the attorneys that work for our criminal justice system,” Garrett said.
Garrett said he’s also worked to enhance the sheriff’s office’s criminal investigation and civil process units and warrant division with more personnel.
“We’re getting more done with more officers,” Garrett said. “We’re not going to solve every case, but we have a good success rate.”
Ultimately, Garrett said his mission “to serve the people I represent.”
“Those people are the citizens of Clarendon County,” he said. “I’m reminded every day that this office belongs to the people. They have a say who runs it for them. I’m asking them to allow me to continue serving them.”