CHESTER -- The stakes in Chester County's race for sheriff arguably couldn't be higher.
The county is battling a drug war that rages between five neighborhood groups. In April, this violence prompted four shootings in three days, including a murder.
The county jail, which the sheriff manages, has failed state inspections for 17 consecutive years and will be shut down by state officials next year if it isn't brought up to code.
Three Democrats are vying for the post, including incumbent Robby Benson. In a rematch of the 2004 sheriff's race, Fort Lawn Police Chief Richard Smith will challenge Benson for the office the sheriff has held since 2000.
Another candidate, Paul Martin, said voters should pick him because he's the most experienced candidate, having served 32 years in the S.C. Highway Patrol. He is retired.
No Republicans are pursuing the seat.
Smith and Benson have sparred in the past, including a public disagreement in 2006 about how authorities should police drugs in the county. That same year, Smith filed a police report about Benson in which he accused the sheriff of harassing him. No charges were filed in the case.
Here's a look at each candidate's platform:
Despite the recent violence in the county, Benson says his office is doing what it can to alleviate the problem.
"We've initiated programs to work on the drug problem and the gang problem," he said. "We've got a lot of momentum in working on the drug problem. We've prosecuted a lot of these cases in federal court. We've built a lot of strong ties to state and federal agencies to work on the drug problem."
Benson said voters should stick with him because of his experience and his working relationships with other local, state and federal agencies. He also said he's made progress working with essentially the same budget he's had for years, and fewer deputies than he had when he was first elected.
"We've done very well with very little in hopes that when the economy straightens up, we'll be able to do a whole lot more," he said. "But the main thing is trying to make a better community for people to live in."
Benson and county leaders have sparred over whether to renovate the old jail, the county's desire, or build another facility.
Benson said a new jail is a must because renovations aren't a viable long-term solution.
Smith says the sheriff's office must be reorganized. Although he couldn't say which posts should be doing what, he maintains the county isn't doing enough to control its drug problem.
In the last year, Smith said the county has assigned no more than three officers to a drug unit.
"Not saying that they're doing a bad job, but you only got two people," he said. "Just like your house being on fire. ... Somebody's out there putting it out with a water hose, or you want somebody out there with a firehose?"
When asked about budget constraints, Smith said more can be done with the current staff. Too many deputies are working inside the office instead of being on the road, he said. He also noted officers should be assigned to specific communities so they can develop relationships with the people who live there.
"You can always do something with nothing," he said.
Smith also disagrees with the way the county handles the large marijuana fields found in recent years.
Instead of publicly announcing when these fields are found, he said the county should post deputies at the sites to wait on the caretakers. When those people arrive, arrest them.
As for the jail, Smith sides with the county leaders: Allow an architect to determine whether it would be cheaper to renovate the current jail or build another one.
Martin says neither of the other candidates can match his experience.
Most people know him from his years as a state trooper, he said. When asked why he's running, Martin said he wants to give voters another choice.
He said he'll focus on bringing charges in older, unsolved crimes. When asked what he would do in those cases, he said, "Try somebody."
He said he doesn't understand how large marijuana fields can be grown in Chester County, as they have in recent years, and yet no one is charged with growing them.
Better surveillance is needed to nab those criminals, he said.
The sheriff serves a four-year term and is paid an annual salary of $56,010.66.