Originally created 09/21/04

Salley's police chief does it all



SALLEY - Chief Brian Epperson calls it "the last outpost" of Aiken County - the extreme eastern border of the sprawling, 1,100-square mile jurisdiction.

The town of Salley, where Chief Epperson has headed the police department since 2001, is only one mile in diameter, with a population of 490, according to the 2000 Census. The railroad tracks that ran through the center of town have been replaced with a concrete walking path, and the textile plants were shuttered long ago.

Since Officer Richard Murphy left in March for a job with the Orangeburg Sheriff's Office, Chief Epperson has been the town's one-man police force - the traffic enforcer, arson investigator, prosecuting officer and anything else circumstances might require.

"I'm it," he said. "It's just me right now. Ideally, we would have three people. One is a bit of a strain - you just don't have time to do everything."

Born in Charleston, S.C., Chief Epperson has worked a variety of law enforcement jobs during the past 32 years. He was a cadet with the Washington, D.C., Police Department; a park police officer for Prince Georges County; and a Maryland state trooper. He served as chief in St. Stephens and Mount Pleasant.

Salley revived its police department in 2001 after three years of contracting with the Aiken County Sheriff's Office for a patrol deputy. Town officials said they found the arrangement lacking, as deputies spent more time outside the city limits responding to county calls, said Paul Salley, a town councilman who also serves as police and fire commissioner.

"Things just didn't work out," he said.

So Chief Epperson was brought in to slow the out-of-town motorists who frequently blew through downtown at speeds of 50, 60, even 80 mph.

"People tend to get kind of wild on the roads when there's not any law enforcement around," Mr. Salley said.

The chief often stations himself and his radar gun near a 35 mph sign heading into town, surprising drivers who don't figure this tiny hamlet has a police presence. He writes about 30 to 40 speeding tickets a month.

The chief has even had a few hot pursuits, including a chase through downtown on his second week on the job that led to an exchange of gunfire with a suspected drug trafficker. It wasn't exactly what he expected when he took the job in this sleepy, rural town.

"Not in the booming metropolis of Salley," he said jokingly.

When he makes an arrest, it means a 25-mile drive to the Aiken County detention center, since Salley has no jail. During night patrols, he often brings along his drug-sniffing Belgian sheepdog, Tasha.

Mr. Salley says he hopes to get another officer on duty to work nights, provided the town can find federal grant money for the position.

For Chief Epperson, policing is the same all over, whether it's in a small town or a big city: "It's 80 percent monotony, but that other 20 percent is an adrenaline rush."