EDITOR’S NOTE: Community Newsmaker is a monthly series that sheds light on topical issues through the eyes of local newsmakers. Today, Director of Aiken Public Safety Charles Barranco discusses how the department is coping with the recent fatal shootings of two officers and the direction the department is taking.
Charles Barranco became Director of Aiken Public Safety on Jan. 21. His 20-years-plus in law enforcement started in 1991 at the University of South Carolina Aiken where he was on the security force for the school.
He left USC Aiken in 1993 for Aiken Public Safety, where he rose to the rank of sergeant over the special services division. In 2005, he moved to the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office where he was initially the homeland security coordinator and in charge of the sex offender registry. After about a year, he was appointed captain over the detention center.
“It was very eye-opening,” he said of running the Aiken County jail.
He said in the law enforcement community, the detention center is usually looked at as the starting point and a less-desirable place to be.
“I submit it is the foundation,” he said. “If you don’t have an effective detention center, it makes it more difficult for the men and women out on the street to be effective at their job.”
He said while he was at the Sheriff’s Office, he attended the FBI Academy and participated in other leadership training that helped develop him into a good candidate to replace former director Pete Frommer when he stepped down at the end of January.
He said being named director was like coming “home to public safety.”
The shooting deaths of Master of Public Safety Officer Scotty Richardson on Dec. 20 and Master Cpl. Sandy Rogers on Jan. 28 have prompted some changes at the department, Barranco said.
In some cases, officers will now be riding together in two-man cars. The department is looking at where most of the calls are coming from and what kind they are getting in which areas so they can “best utilize those cars.”
Though the department has hired four officers, Barranco said the department will not be adding officers to have two-person cars. Instead, they will be putting the officers they have together.
Having two high-profile deaths in such a short span may have made it seem that violent crime is on the rise in Aiken, but Barranco said he has not noticed a significant increase in anything but property crimes. He added that the department has had community meetings to discuss crime.
Barranco admits that the deaths have affected some of the things he wanted to work on right away, but said ideas still will be implemented, including growing community policing.
“Community policing is not just a division or individuals,” he said. “It’s a departmentwide philosophy … It’s about being involved and taking a part in this community.”
DEALING WITH THE GRIEF
Barranco said the department has not let the tragedies affect its performance. No calls have gone unanswered.
“I’m very proud to be a part of this organization,” he said.
Barranco said the department is finding solace in working and continuing a level of service that Aiken has grown accustomed to.
“We have a responsibility in this community,” he said.
He worked with Richardson and Rogers when he was at Public Safety almost 10 years ago, and knew them personally.
“Being around these committed men and women is very encouraging,” he said. “It’s a family here at Aiken Public Safety, and being around our family has allowed us to put one foot in front of the other.”
Aiken residents have been showing public safety officers their support by sending food, flowers and words of encouragement, Barranco said.
“It was very supportive and at times it was amazing to watch,” he said. “It was touching.”
The department is involved heavily in the community through programs such as community policing and volunteer firefighters.
A new mentoring program called Pencils and Putters in which officers help youths with homework and then take them golfing has been implemented.
“It’s a character-building program. It’s an athletic program,” he said. “And our officers are heavily involved in that program.”
He said the officers are encouraged to participate in off-duty programs as part of the “master career path,” which is an opportunity for career advancement in a non-supervisory level. It allows the officers to get credit for working in community-based programs such as Boys and Girls Club or Pencils and Putters.