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A new sheriff

Posted: January 6, 2011 4:53 p.m.
Updated: January 7, 2011 5:00 a.m.

Hundreds of people filed into Camden’s First Baptist Church earlier this week to witness the swearing-in of Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews, and it was good to see that it took Matthews only a few minutes to sign mutual assistance pacts with the sheriffs of five neighboring counties, signaling a new day of cooperation among the local department and those of surrounding areas. It was appropriate that a large number of law enforcement officials from other departments -- county, state and federal -- attended the ceremony to watch the former DEA agent take the oath and pledge to do “my very best.”

Matthews presented an ambitious agenda, including establishing a traffic division. He’s requesting money from county council -- we’ll have to wait and see how that goes during these austere economic times -- to do that, saying it will make the roads safer and will also serve as a tool to discover people who are out on the roads performing all sorts of criminal deeds they shouldn’t be doing.

The new sheriff also showed no apprehensions about making changes he thinks are necessary, including putting a halt to complimentary traffic escorts during funerals, a practice that has been in place for decades. He’ll probably catch a little flak for this, but we’ll have to step to Matthews’ defense on this matter given the fact that while such escorts are certainly nice, they are expensive for an already strapped department to undertake. That will no doubt ruffle a few feathers, but unpaid escorts are becoming a thing of the past, even in the courteous South.

The new practice didn’t please some county funeral home owners, and that’s understandable; we can sympathize with them. They’ll ultimately pass along the costs to the families of the deceased, who will be able to decide whether or not they want to use escorts. And while the fee might sound high to some -- $35 an hour with a three-hour minimum -- that will cover preparation time for the deputy and the expense of using patrol cars. Additionally, Matthews has agreed to be reasonable about negotiating the minimum fee if a deputy is going to be needed only for a few minutes. The new policy is one more sign that things can’t always operate as they have in the past. Matthews is wise to address this from the beginning of his tenure, and it looks as if he is off and running.


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