A new year, a new sheriff

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Buddy Hill took over the reins of the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office on Jan. 5 after his swearing-in ceremony Monday at the Colleton County Courthouse.

“I think this place is in excellent hands,” said out-going Sheriff Charles Ghent, who will return to his job at SLED. “I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who knows or loves this county more than Buddy Hill. He’s a man of deep integrity. I can’t think of anybody uniquely better suited to take this agency to the next level in the coming years.”

Born and raised in Colleton County, Hill has been in law enforcement since he was 25 — 29 years. And most of that time has been with the sheriff’s office.

Hill served under seven sheriffs, starting with then-Sheriff Cutter Ackerman in the 1980s. He’s worked as a patrol officer, a sergeant, a lieutenant, an investigator, in personal crimes and narcotics. He managed the bloodhounds, was a SWAT commander for Sheriff Allan Beach, and was a Walterboro Police officer for two years. Then he served as chief deputy for former Sheriff Andy Strickland for seven years and retained the position during the last year with Sheriff Ghent. And the two have worked well together.

“We were blessed to get Sheriff Ghent in here — he brought a set of fresh eyes,” Hill said. “He identified some things he thought needed work, and I agreed with him wholeheartedly. He’s done a great job for us.”

A few of the projects the two worked on, and that Hill plans to continue to improve, included updating the CCSO policies and procedures, establishing an internal investigations division to handle complaints, and a dedicated narcotics team that’s in place. And that’s just a small portion of the changes the two have implemented.

Ghent said Hill has been an integral part of the changes at CCSO. “I can think of many times when I was struggling with a problem or decision, and rather than give me advice or an answer; he’d just say ‘What does your heart tell you is best for the agency?’ And that was always the best answer without giving the answer,” Ghent said.

Sheriff Hill has several ideas of his own to improve the CCSO. First, he’s appointed Gean Johnson as chief deputy. “He’s got 22 years with the sheriff’s office. He started in detention, then went into the uniform patrol division, then investigations, and ended up as captain over support services,” Hill said. Johnson has been gone from the CCSO for seven years, so “he will be a fresh set of eyes coming in. I look forward to working with him,” he said.

In the short-term, Hill’s goals are to fill the vacant deputy positions. When the pandemic allows, he plans to get community programs up and running again to get deputies interacting with residents to build trust and knowledge of what deputies do and let citizens know who they can bring their questions and complaints to be addressed. He wants to strengthen the relationships with local and adjoining agencies to promote multi-agency support.

Plus, he will continue the open-door policy to the sheriff’s office, listening to the residents he serves. “You can’t lose sight of the fact that this office belongs to the citizens of this county. They just hired me to manage it.”

And Hill is not afraid to listen and ask for help. “I’ve got a lot to learn. I don’t know everything. I learn something new every day,” he said. SLED has offered to share Ghent and his advice, so he’s just a phone call away, as are a lot of other good resources. And Hill said he has a great staff. “I’ve worked with a lot of people over the years, and this is as good as a group as I’ve had the pleasure to work with.”

Hill is excited about the coming four years and humbled that the people of Colleton chose to give him the opportunity to lead the sheriff’s office. “It’s a huge responsibility. I’m very humbled and honored to have this position and will do everything in my power to make them proud of the decision they made.”

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