BAMBERG – Bamberg County has dedicated its new, $3.3 million law enforcement center.

Law enforcement officials from across the state were among the large crowd gathered at 509 North St. in Bamberg for Friday’s dedication of the Ed Darnell Law Enforcement Center.

The officials included S.C. Law Enforcement Division Assistant Chief Richard Gregory, Orangeburg County Sheriff Leroy Ravenell, Marion County Sheriff Brian Wallace and Newberry County Sheriff Lee Foster, the state’s longest-serving sheriff.

The county is transforming its former hospital into a law enforcement and health and human services complex. The more than 8,000-square-foot law enforcement center is a part of the complex.

The center is named in honor of the late John Edward “Ed” Darnell, who was Bamberg County’s longest-serving sheriff. He was 84 years old when he decided not to seek re-election in 2020.

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Darnell, who was the longest-serving sheriff in South Carolina, and the nation’s third longest-serving sheriff, died at age 85 on July 12, 2022.

His friendly nature and legacy of service, marked by integrity and honesty, was remembered during the special occasion. Members of his family, including his son, Tommy, and his identical twin brother, Buddy, attended.

“It’s a little emotional for me,” Tommy said. He thanked the county for honoring his father.

He noted that his father started working in law enforcement in 1972 as an officer with the Denmark Police Department before working his way up to assistant chief and his eventual election as county sheriff.

“This place looks awesome,” he said, noting that he was born at the hospital in 1960 and that his father would have been proud of the special occasion on Friday.

“He was a very humble man. He never wanted anybody to do anything for him – ever. … It wasn’t about him,” Tommy said, noting that the naming of the center in his father’s honor was, however, “a great thing for our family.”

He described his father as a “committed and true public servant.”

Buddy, who served as Barnwell police chief for more than 20 years, shared loving memories of his brother, who he also said would have been proud of the celebration.

“We had our time. We were two peas in a pod. We just played pranks on everybody,” Buddy said.

Buddy said he prays for the safety of current law enforcement officers.

Like so many others who spoke of his brother’s ability to talk to people rather than raise conflict, Buddy urged the community and law enforcement to come together to forge strong, productive bonds.

“It’s better to try to talk to somebody than to try to fight,” he said, urging everyone to be led by spirit of “the good master.”

Sheriff Foster said, “This is a magnificent edifice to the memory of Sheriff Darnell, our longest-serving sheriff up until he retired.”

He commended Darnell for his ability to talk with people.

“That’s something I think we’ve lost, and we need to get it back,” Foster said.

Bamberg County Council Chairman Dr. Jonathan Goodman II referenced the history of the hospital, which opened in September of 1952 before closing in April 2012. It slowly became an eyesore, he said.

Goodman said he’s grateful for the completion of the law enforcement center. Plans call for it to include, but not be limited to, the county’s health department, Veterans Affairs office and coroner’s office.

Bamberg County Administrator Joey Preston said the cost of the $3,287,886 law enforcement center was covered by $1,787,886 from the capital project sales tax and a $1.5 million grant from the state Department of Commerce.

The center includes dedicated areas for critical records and storage space, a detention cell and investigation room, a modern electronic access control system and interior and exterior cameras, along with a 250-kilowatt natural gas generator.

Preston said a “code blue pole” located in the center’s front parking lot provides an exchange area to give the public a safe way to meet others and do business.

A victims advocate office; modernized spaces for probation, pardon and parole officials, and safety glass panels in reception areas were other features included in the center, the administrator said.

Pedestrian safety components, including sidewalks and crosswalks and resurfacing, and new road construction, will be completed later with the assistance of the C-Fund Committee.

Greg McFarland of Myrtle Beach-based architectural firm Pike-McFarland-Hall Associates Inc. said, “We’re thankful that we worked through this process with you, and we’ve done it in a lot of other counties, too, to repurpose buildings to make them usable for a lot of years to come. … We’ve got more to do here, too.”

Preston said the law enforcement center is 98 percent complete.

State Rep. Justin Bamberg, D-Bamberg, was among the legislative officials on hand.

Preston said Bamberg was instrumental in securing $1 million for not only for the completion of a portion of the law enforcement center, but toward the county’s new emergency operations center, EMS center and coroner’s office and morgue.

“Thanks to Rep. Justin Bamberg, we’re going to be able to pretty much complete those,” he said.

“Not only did he help us get a million dollars to help complete this project, he got us a million dollars to go towards the courthouse, too,” Preston said, referring to the ongoing county courthouse renovation project.

“In a time with escalating construction costs, we have to work with what we have. We can’t print money, but you’re helping us get it. We’re getting there. People ask me, ‘When is this project going to be done? When is this going to be done?’ We pay for it as we go, and Justin’s helping do that,” Preston said.

Rep. Bamberg said, “This is a great day. This is a beautiful facility. … Looking at the faces of the members of Darnell family, it just makes me happy to see y’all happy. Sheriff Darnell was a pillar in this community.”

Deirdre Nichols, assistant director of offender supervision and enforcement services at the state Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services, said, “I feel like I know Mr. Darnell already, and I’ve enjoyed hearing such wonderful things and attributes about him.”

She said Darnell stood for building trust in the community to promote effective policing and enhance community interaction with law enforcement.

“Those are so important when you’re doing a job like what we do,” she said.

City of Bamberg Mayor Nancy Foster, who considered Darnell a friend, said that the transformation of the defunct hospital is welcome.

“This is a beautiful day in Bamberg County. … To see this restoration is a wonderful sight,” she said.

Kay Maxwell, vice president of the Southern Carolina Alliance, said, “Reinvestment in a community is a key indicator of a growing community.”

County Sheriff Kenny Bamberg said, “It’s truly an honor for a great man. More importantly, I want to thank the people here, the citizens of Bamberg County, for what I call investing in your law enforcement. This is definitely a step in the right direction.”

“I want to thank the people of Bamberg County that had the confidence in me to elect me as the sheriff to continue the work that Sheriff Darnell did,” he said, noting that he could not do his job without the support of fire and fellow law enforcement officials.

Preston thanked Bamberg County Council members for their support, along with others who made the project possible.

“We are together to celebrate the remarkable power of unity and cooperation exemplified through the harmonious collaboration of various entities within our county. … It is a testament to the strength that emerges when different hands, minds and perspectives synergize towards a shared vision,” Preston said.

Contact the writer: or 803-533-5534. Follow “Good News with Gleaton” on Twitter at @DionneTandD

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