Ronnie Strength was sworn in as sheriff of Richmond County on Tuesday.
Superior Court Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet administered the oath of office to the former chief deputy, Sheriff Charles B. Webster's hand-picked successor, during the 10 a.m. ceremony in the municipal building on Greene Street.
But Sheriff Strength will have to wait to officially become the county's top cop until midnight Dec. 31, when Sheriff Webster's fourth four-year term expires.
Probate Court Judge Isaac Jolles then swore in a group of officers who will serve under the new sheriff. Swearing-in ceremonies will continue through today for other divisions of the department.
Eight of Richmond County's Superior Court judges were present for the ceremony, and each praised the sheriffs - old and new.
Judge Duncan Wheale said that, when he moved to Augusta 27 years ago, Richmond County was a laughingstock in the state "as far as the sheriff's department."
"We had a couple of sheriffs that gave the community a black eye," he said. "They were followed by Charles Webster, who, in my opinion, is the finest public servant I've ever seen."
Judge Carl Brown praised the sheriff-elect for his service to the county.
"My prayers are that you will continue to be blessed," Judge Brown said. "I know you are going to be one of the most outstanding sheriffs this county has ever had."
Sheriff Strength pledged to try to do just that, and he thanked Sheriff Webster for his leadership.
"I've said many times over he never taught me anything about law enforcement over those years, but he certainly taught me a lot about people, how to treat people and how people want to be treated and how to get respect from those people," he said. "I owe him so much for that.
"And I promise you this - and I promise the citizens of this county this: That will continue. We will support this county. We will respect the citizens of this county. And we will be as professional as any department can be."
Sheriff Webster asked Augustans to support his successor.
"Continue to give this man that support too, because he's going to need it," he said. "The job was hard when I started, but it's got harder over the 17 years, and it's going to be harder in the years to come."
Then he gave Sheriff Strength his marching orders: "You've got but one thing to do. Make the best sheriff Richmond County ever had. Beat me bad. Beat me bad."
Sitting on the front row was Lt. Leon Garvin, who lost his own bid for sheriff in the November election.
"He's been successful all his life," Lt. Garvin said. "He'll make a good sheriff, and we'll be there to support him."
Also on the front row was Harvey Hogan, who taught and coached Sheriff Strength, Chief Deputy Sid Hatfield, Major Edward J. "Butch" Wilhelm and Major Larry Vinson when they were students at Tubman Junior High School.
Mr. Hogan predicted the new sheriff would do an outstanding job.
"He's totally dedicated to the task at hand," he said. "He has absolute responsibility. When I had to go take a phone call, I could leave a class with him, and he would run it as good as I could. Even as a teen-ager (it was) like he was trained for it.
"Of course, he came from a family of law enforcement. His father was a sergeant a long time ago. We were neighbors. I was his teacher. I was his coach, and we have remained friends, and I would trust him with my life."
Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228.