Dwayne Courtney can remember a simpler time in law enforcement.
His first sidearm was a six-shot revolver. A walkie talkie was a new device that was a big as a brick – and, as Courtney recalled, about as useful as one, too. And patrol cars had rotating “double bubble” lights that “looked like little bubble gum machines sitting on top of the patrol car,” he said.
Courtney has seen the field of law enforcement make many turns during his 31 years as an officer, the last 10 of which were spent as chief deputy for the Aiken County Sheriff's Office. And now, Courtney himself will make a turn and leave the Sheriff's Office to take another job. He'll be the new chief of law enforcement for WSI, which provides security at the Savannah River Site.
“It's been a good ride. It really has,” he said, sitting at his desk in the Sheriff's Office.
Courtney, who was born and raised in Aiken, got his start in law enforcement at age 14, working with a local volunteer fire department. After graduating from Aiken High School, he entered the U.S. Army and became a police officer.
In 1982, Courtney completed his military commitment and joined the Aiken Department of Public Safety, where for more than 20 years he worked in narcotics, evidence management, major crimes and death investigations. He became captain of the investigations division in 1999.
In 2003, Michael Hunt, who was running for sheriff at the time, asked Courtney to be his chief deputy.
“It was an upward move for me, going from captain to chief deputy,” Courtney said. “This position has afforded me so many great opportunities to move, both personally and professionally.”
The chief deputy has daily oversight of all divisions of the agency, including the detention center, according to Courtney. That oversight includes 260 employees, 300 inmates and a budget of about $14 million.
“You're the guy who does the biggest part in the hiring and the disciplinarian,” Courtney said. “You're a mother, a father, a brother – you have to be all those things to employees. There are times employees have come in and cried on my shoulder. We've had situations where we had to bury our own. Those are very difficult times, but they're times the chief deputy has to be strong and leaning forward.”
Promotion of Capt. Troy Elwell
Capt. Troy Elwell will be promoted to chief deputy beginning on Courtney's last day, April 25. Lt. Eric Abdullah will be promoted to Elwell's position of captain.
Courtney called Elwell a “great up-and-comer.”
“Both of them have been with the agency for quite some time,” he said. “They're both young visionaries, and I think they'll help bring the agency that much further along with their professionalism.”
Elwell said Courtney's wisdom, guidance and direction will be missed at the Sheriff's Office.
“He's been a boss that you can approach on personal matters or business matters,” Elwell said. “You get some good advice and good direction. He's always genuine with the way he tells you. Sometimes he tells you something you might not want to hear, but it's what you need to hear.”
Final day a tough one
“I'm scared to death of what that final day is gonna be like, emotionally” he said. “The day I announced my retirement, I probably shook worse than I ever have. The following day was filled with a never-ending flow of employees and phone calls and emails and text messages – you know, folks being congratulatory.”
Courtney said he'll miss the people most. He added that law enforcement officers have a camaraderie that is often not understood by other professions.
“We have to have each other's back, day in and day out,” he said.
Over the past 31 years, Courtney said he's seen many changes in law enforcement, most of which he said were for the best.
“Most agencies had very little, if any, proper control over evidence,” he said, recalling a traffic stop during which he recovered a weapon and a large bag of cocaine. His captain told him: “Put that stuff in your wall locker. I'll get it from you on Monday.”
“Of course, that would be unheard of in today's society,” Courtney said.
While the past 31 years have brought their share of change, Courtney said he is excited about what is still to come – for himself and for the Sheriff's Office.
“I certainly look forward to future growth with the Sheriff's Office, and I'm extremely pleased with the folks the sheriff has chosen to follow,” he said. “It's gonna be good. It's gonna be different, but it's gonna be good.”