News 12 at 6 o'clock / Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012
AIKEN, S.C. -- In Aiken County, there will be only one sheriff candidate on the ballot, but a write-in candidate is fighting for the position, too.
Aiken County Sheriff Michael E. Hunt is a native of this area and lives in Graniteville. He's served in local law enforcement for over 30 years.
Hunt started as a firefighter in Richmond County, became a corrections officer at the Aiken County Detention Center, next a public safety officer at the North Augusta Department of Public Safety, and then, in 1985, an officer at the Aiken Department of Public Safety. In 2003, during a special election, Hunt became Aiken County sheriff.
"You know, I love Aiken County, and I always have. This is my home," Sheriff Hunt said.
His challenger, Jim Vause, was born and raised in Florence. He enlisted in the Army and spent 25 years in the service. He took two tours of combat in both Vietnam and the first Gulf War.
Vause spent 35 years in law enforcement, too. He says he specialized in four areas of police work. He worked at Wackenhut, the security force for Savannah River Site, and now owns a security business.
"Sheriff Hunt needs to know that there's a lot of people in this community that are not happy with his leadership," Vause said.
Hunt is the Republican on the ticket, and Vause actually doesn't appear on the ticket at all. He was one of the hundreds of candidates kicked off South Carolina ballots after a Supreme Court technicality months ago. Now, he's running as a write-in candidate.
"So, what we have to do now is we have to overcome an incumbent with a write-in campaign. Now, we have a lot of support," Vause said.
Hunt is banking on his support, too. He says he's transformed the Aiken County Sheriff's Office since he was first elected in May 2003. He says he's drastically reduced a huge backlog of warrants with help from his deputies and the solicitor.
Hunt says the occupancy rate of the Aiken County Detention Center has also gone down. He says the ACDC wasn't always under his jurisdiction until the Aiken County Council asked him to take it under his auspices, which, he says, he's successfully done.
Hunt says his main accomplishment is increasing the number of deputies on the streets.
"We took the manpower we had, restructured and increased the number of deputies per shift to 12 within a two-week period at no cost to the taxpayer," he said, stating that when he took office, sometimes there were only four on-shift at a time.
Now, the county budget has increased that number to 17 per shift, and the number of dispatchers has increased, too.
However, Vause points to an increase in crime.
"Just the night before last, and last night, there were break-ins on the road that I live on way out in the county," he said.
Sheriff Hunt says the 200 percent increase Vause claims is inaccurate and unfounded but says property crimes are up. He says it's likely a sign of the times.
"This county has grown and continues to grow, when a lot of counties did not," Hunt said.
"I agree. It has gone up, but I look at this from a military standpoint. You give me more money for more boots on the ground, and crime is supposed to either level off or go down," Vause said.
Vause says on his first day in office, he would focus on the respecting members of the community, and he'd get more reserve deputies on the streets.
Meanwhile, the sheriff says he'll keep the department on the cutting edge while focusing on combating drugs.
Hunt also says his office has really focused on community policing. They've seen the birth and growth of programs like Alive at 25, nearly 40 crimewatch groups and a program where deputies read to students, just to name a few.
Vause says, if elected, working with the community would be the foundation of his plan. However, if you want to vote for Vause, though, just remember, you'll have to type his name in at the polls, since he is a write-in candidate.