Andrew Dys

Public safety: This primary election Tuesday matters


Tuesday’s primary elections in York and Chester counties are not just about politics.

Politics is Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, two candidates whom we all will choose between in November who are disliked by almost everyone. That presidential race shows how broken our national politics is – when two people hated by tens of millions of patriotic Americans are the best we have to choose from.

But primaries generally attract only the most partisan of voters. Let’s hope Tuesday is different.

Because cops are non-partisan. The only party they are really in is the party of right versus wrong.

Tuesday in York and Chester counties there will be primary elections for sheriff. The sheriff is the one person who is responsible in each county for public safety and law and order – the two things most essential to quality of life. Roads and schools and jobs are important. But those things do not compare with what cops do: keep the rest of us safe.

South Carolinians can crow by the thousands, even millions, about keeping legal guns – but it is the deputies who deal with the aftermath of gun violence that without those cops, would be even worse than it is. Which is brutal.

Only one person can be “The Sheriff.”

The buck stops with him.

It is so important that in South Carolina, The Sheriff must have at least some law enforcement experience. Lawyers, bankers, politicians, newspaper columnists, are not of the caliber who can even run, let alone serve.

The Sheriff leads all efforts to knock out gangs, drugs, mayhem, shootings, domestic violence. The Sheriff leads drug task forces and runs the jail and when people get shot and die the public wants killers locked up.

York County voters have a crucial task because in increasingly conservative, Republican York County, there is no Democratic Party candidate for sheriff in November. And, a potential petition candidate, former deputy and Carolina Panther Michael Scurlock, dropped out last week because he lacked enough signatures to get on the ballot in November.

The Democratic Party in York County is so weak it fielded no candidates for solicitor, coroner or sheriff. No wonder people believe – right or wrong – that Republicans are the law and order party if the Democrats can’t even muster a candidate for the offices that handle arresting and prosecuting killers.

So long-time cops Kevin Tolson and John Williams are the choices on Tuesday. The choice matters in a York County that just last year passed a quarter-million people in population.

Every one of them depends on the experience and leadership of The Sheriff.

Williams has been a deputy for 30-plus years.

Tolson was the first supervisor of the forensic unit that turned investigation into science and prisons for killers, and has been part of three agencies – the sheriff’s office, the solicitors’ office and State Law Enforcement Division – that investigate and prosecute of violent criminals.

In York County, the outgoing current sheriff is a guy named Bruce Bryant. Bruce Bryant is tougher, more conservative than any Tea Party politician. Before he was sheriff he had one specialty – catching murderers.

Yet since election in 1996, Bryant has spent 20 years with his stomach in his throat, worrying. The Sheriff is responsible for public safety, and every officer’s safety, Bryant has said so many times. It is the weight of a quarter-million people now.

We in York County were lucky to have a tough guy like Bryant. But there is no luck in catching killers. It takes experience. And guts.

In Chester County, the Democratic primary is a three-way race among current and former cops: Incumbent Sheriff Alex Underwood, a reformer and the first black sheriff of Chester County, who has instituted several programs; former Chester police chief and current Chester schools security chief Andre Williams; and retired Chester officer Al Rainey.

The choice again is who has the experience, the leadership, to keep people safe in a world of gun violence, drug dealers and gangs. Chester County’s gang problem was a national story in 2014 when city councilman Odell Williams was killed – Underwood declared war on gangs after death threats to him and his family and his officers, and made arrests in the case.

The winner takes on another former sheriff, Republican Richard Smith, in November.

In the crucial sheriff races, there is no talk of Obamacare, e-mail scandals, building border walls or other things that do not matter in York County and Chester County.

What matters is who can take on drug gangs who shoot and kill, and lock them up. What matters is who can stop drug dealers. What matters is who can have the courage to face down criminals who maim. What matters is who can recruit young tough cops and keep the best ones to put on the badge for little pay but the greatness of serving the public.

And what matters is that in our system, we, the voters, get to choose who that tough guy is. Unlike cities where the police chief is appointed, and therefore chosen by politicians, the sheriff is chosen by us.

We, the people, decide who has the experience and guts to risk their lives for us.

Nothing could matter more.