Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews announced Wednesday that he will not seek re-election in 2018 when his term expires.
Matthews’ expected retirement, after two four-year terms in office, will end an era in Kershaw County in which many believed he revolutionized law enforcement.
After being elected in 2010, Matthews got more bullet proof vests for deputies, ordered body cameras and stepped up DUI arrests. He created a traffic unit that patrolled I-20, whose flat straightaway expanse through Kershaw County is treated like a speedway by scofflaws who regularly brush 100 mph or more.
He created a sheriff’s foundation that raised some $60,000 to buy body armor and other items that weren’t in the county budget and initiated a physical fitness program for deputies where there was none before. He also instituted pursuit driving training and accident avoidance training for all deputies. In 2014, he was named Sheriff of the Year by his peers at the S.C. Sheriff’s Association.
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Over the years, Matthews, a former federal Drug Enforcement Agency agent, won a reputation as being accessible to the news media and a sheriff who worked to be transparent. In July, Matthews drew the ire of some court officials when he criticized a state judge who he thought had let a convicted felon off with probation instead of prison time, saying light sentences happen too often.
Over the years, he was not shy about asking a thrifty county council for more equipment and money for his department.
“I ask for resources to do the job I was elected to do,” Matthews said in an interview Wednesday. The Kershaw sheriff’s department has approximately 65 deputies and a budget of about $4 million.
Kershaw County Council chairman Julian Burns, who like Matthews is elected by voters countywide, said Wednesday when Matthew earlier told him he was not going to run again, he tried to get him to stay.
Matthews is “revered here – tough, fair minded, effective, compassionate. (A) great leader,” Burns said. “Clearly the top sheriff in all of South Carolina and one who helped make Kershaw County the Great Place: safe and secure, modern and forward-looking.”
Leon Lott, sheriff in neighboring Richland County, has known Matthews for some 40 years. He praised his years of service.
“Jim is a cop at heart,” Lott said. “He will always be a cop. I know he struggled with this decision.”
Johnny Deal, a former Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce president, said Matthews has been generally well liked. “The criminals and lawbreakers don’t like him, and the good citizens of Kershaw County do like him.”
Lott said before Matthews took over the Kershaw sheriff’s job, there was little communication between the Richland and Kershaw sheriffs, even though they share a long common border. Since 2010, the two departments have cooperated, Lott said.
In a video posted at noon Wednesday on Facebook, Matthews made his announcement, saying he initially intended to seek re-election, until a deputy within his ranks expressed interest in the role.
Matthews said the sheriff’s department has to plan for the long term; this “young leader is without a doubt the future of our department,” he said.
Matthews, a Republican, would likely have had a good shot at being re-elected.
In 2010, he won more than 50 percent of the vote in the Republican primary to cruise to victory in the November elections.
In 2014, he beat a lone contender in the GOP primary by more than 70 percentage points.
4 KEY SUCCESSES
PROFESSIONALISM. All deputies now have bullet proof vests and body cameras. All cars have cameras and a computerized report-writing system. Training has increased. Complaints against deputies are down.
SPEEDING. Increased traffic patrols have reduced speeding, particularly on I-20. Speeding citations have increased to 5,117 in 2016 from 2,545 in 2011. Out-of-state drivers are frequent offenders.
GANGS AND DRUGS. Deputies have tackled home and car break-ins as well as thefts in general, many of them perpetrated by known gang members coming into Kershaw County from elsewhere. Narcotics officers have made significant arrests of drug dealers and discovered and dismantled numerous meth labs.
DUI ENFORCEMENT. The department has been named the state law enforcement agency of the year for its size for the past six years for DUI enforcement. Nationally, the traffic unit this year was recognized as the unit of the year for DUI enforcement by the National Criminal Enforcement Association, and a deputy was named deputy of the year. DUI arrests increased to 189 in 2016 and 228 in 2015, from 43 in 2011.
SOURCE: Kershaw County Sheriff's Department