Incumbent Aiken County Sheriff Michael Hunt will be the lone candidate on the November ballot for the office he has held since 2003, but resident Jim Vause has launched a public campaign as a write-in to oust the current office holder.
Vause was one of several local candidates impacted by a state Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that decertified nearly 200 candidates statewide from running in the primary. Once he was kicked off the ballot and learned that he would have to acquire an estimated 5,000 signatures from registered voters to secure a spot on the ballot as a petition candidate, he said he wanted to bow out of the race.
Several weeks later, Vause had a change of heart and said he wanted to continue his campaign against Hunt as a write-in.
Since then, the retired U.S. Army officer and long-serving law enforcement officer who boasts serving as a beat cop and nuclear officer instructor in a career that has spanned three decades, has said he has a clear-cut mission if he were to be elected sheriff.
Vause said he will decrease response times, see that all law enforcement officers are treated fairly, promote community relations and be a good steward of taxpayer money.
To decrease the time it takes a deputy to respond to a call, Vause proposes increasing the current reserve deputy program from less than 20 serving in the current administration to as many as 70.
The increase, he said, is doable.
By allowing the reservists, who have arrest powers, to respond to less emergent calls, it frees non-reservist deputies to respond to the most emergent of calls.
The plan will both decrease response times and save money, he said.
Reserve deputies are not paid. The sheriff’s office pays only to outfit the reservist, Vause said.
Vause added that, under his direction, he will bring crime numbers down and promote better relationships between the community and law enforcement.
“It’s time to make Aiken County a community,” Vause said.
Hunt, the incumbent sheriff, said he’s comfortable running on his record, adding that he has increased the number of deputies on a shift, increasing what had been as few as four deputies on a shift to as many as 17 law enforcement officers.
Since taking the helm as the lead law enforcement officer in the county more than nine years ago, Hunt said his office has made 2,300 drug-related arrests.
“We have taken an aggressive stance on drugs,” he said.
Drugs are at the heart of the vast majority of property crimes, robberies and sexual assaults, Hunt added.
He said his responsibility has continued to grow since taking office and is proud of the work the sheriff’s office is doing.
The sheriff’s office has taken over operations at the Aiken County detention center, where he said they have instituted a GED and faith-based outreach program for inmates.
Law enforcement must also be proactive, he said, adding that there are about 30 crime watch groups organized throughout Aiken County.
Hunt said the agency supports Alive at 25, an initiative to teach young drivers ways to drive safer, and Operation Lifesaver, a program which uses a tracking bracelet to find elderly residents who have wandered from home.
Hunt said he is especially proud of a new initiative - Books and Badges.
The program is aimed at increasing interaction between students and deputies.
“I will continue to try new things,” he said. “ I tell our folks I like to think outside the box ...”
Vause said he would like to do even more community policing and partner with residents to bring crime down.