AIKEN — Outside the Robert E. Penland Administration Building at the University of South Carolina Aiken is one of the campus’ most famous landmarks, the Double Knot sculpture by artist Charles Perry, which symbolizes the university’s close ties with the local community.
Aiken’s incoming director of public safety, Aiken County sheriff’s Capt. Charles Barranco, looks to that knot as a metaphor to explain why he is excited by his new role.
“When I came to USC Aiken, I was told this is the symbol of USC Aiken,” he said. “That’s how I feel about public safety and this community. It’s so ingrained here because of the relationships that have been forged over the years. It’s just part of who public safety is, and that is one of the most comforting things about coming home.”
Barranco worked for Aiken Public Safety from 1993 to 2005, where he rose to the rank of sergeant over the special services division. He considers the Public Safety Department where he grew up.
“It’s very humbling and such an honor to be named in this position,” he said. “To be able to come home and be with the people I grew up with.”
In 2005, he joined the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office and in 2006, he was promoted to captain and was in charge of the jail administration.
“The jail allowed me to grow in ways I had never imagined,” he said. “I had taken people to the jail before; however, I had never known the inner workings and the complexity of the detention center. That allowed me to grow with leadership and management skills.”
Back in 1988, Barranco came to the area on a soccer scholarship to USC Aiken with the intention of going back to Columbia, where he is from. But he fell in love with the city and never left.
Back then, he had his heart set on becoming an FBI agent. But when he joined the campus public safety department and got a taste for local law enforcement, he decided that was where he could really make a difference. Later he did go to the FBI National Academy for training.
“So I was able to fulfill both dreams in a way,” he said. “It was the interaction with people that made me realize I wanted to set my roots in this community.”
Becoming director so close to a tragedy is something Barranco sees as an opportunity to emphasize his goal of keeping the department close.
Master Public Safety Officer Scotty Richardson was shot and killed on Dec. 20 in the line of duty. Stephon M. Carter, 19, has been charged with murder.
Barranco realizes the department is still healing.
“Different needs will arise,” he said. “But we will be here for each other and for Scotty’s family.”
As for the future, Barranco has ideas but also realizes the department is already doing a lot of things right.
“There will be challenges that we can’t predict, but I know because of the quality of people that are here, we will do it together and we will do it right,” he said. “It’s a well-oiled machine here.”
Current Director Pete Frommer has been giving Barranco advice as he transitions out.
“The meetings we have had, he has shot it straight at me,” Barranco said. “He’s shared the good, bad and indifferent. I’m ready.”