May 30—Aiken County is composed of more than 1,000 square miles, and Salley's police chief, Chad Hyler, is familiar with most of the territory, aside from the Savannah River Site.
The North Augusta resident was hired this year as the town's sole police officer, and covers much of the county several days each week simply by commuting to and from work. Road work is one aspect of the job, and paperwork — sometimes in substantial quantities — is another.
"It's not easy just to run a department solo, by yourself, like it was 20 years ago, or even 10," he said, noting that his years with the Aiken County Sheriff's Office helped expose him to a network of regulations that still apply in a tiny town, such as Salley.
Challenges on the horizon are likely include the return of the town's most prominent tradition: the Chitlin' Strut, widely known as one of South Carolina's most popular small-town festivals. Fear of COVID-19 brought the festival's cancellation in both 2020 and 2021, but plans are in place for the massive gathering to take place this year on Nov. 26 (in keeping with tradition of the first Saturday after Thanksgiving) and draw thousands of visitors from around the South and possibly beyond.
"The great thing about it, with my 20-plus years, is, thankfully, I have great resources locally, state and federal that I can lean on, which is what we do in our line of work — lean on each other."
Hyler, an enthusiastic outdoorsman whose years at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College included a focus on wildlife management, is also extremely comfortable in the world of small-town fire departments, having been on board with Belvedere's agency for 25 years, as a volunteer, including 13 years as chief (his current role).
He came to Salley by way of a position with the Aiken County Sheriff's Office, having been the captain of road patrols. He was with the ACSO from 2001 to 2021. Prior to that, he was in Augusta, also in law enforcement, in connection with what was then known as the Medical College of Georgia.
One of his hopes in Salley, he said, is for his department to get some part-time personnel on board, once Hyler has a firm grip on state and federal guidelines for such efforts.
In the meantime, Hyler's most frequent local contact people include the members of Salley Town Council: Paul Salley, Mark Hartley, Cassandra Hicks-Brown and Marion Milhouse, along with LaDonna Hall, now in her first term as the mayor. Most of that group, he said, has several decades of experience in local life, so there is no shortage of insight in terms of getting to know the neighborhood.
Plans are in place to offer free gun locks to local residents, and another of Hyler's ideas for the near future, with the support of the American Red Cross, is to have a "smoke-alarm blitz," he said, with a pre-event questionnaire being circulated to find out who may need an alarm to help the resident stay at least one step ahead of losing life and property.
"I still look at all public-safety aspects of what we're trying to do. The fire department, I understand, only has so many folks, so we're just going to come up with a date and we'll be pushing that out...We'll try to cover the town as a whole."
One of Hyler's recommendations to the council has been to have a National Night Out event, described in promotional material as "a national community-building campaign that promotes police-community partnerships."
His partnership on the home front is with his wife, Dana, and their family tree includes a daughter and two sons.
The father of the house has Tifton, Georgia, among his places loaded with memories. "That's where I rode bulls on the weekends, for fun, because there was nothing else to do," he said, recalling his years at Abraham Baldwin ("ABAC").
"My only rule of thumb was 'no horns.' We rode them on the weekends — went down to Valdosta, because there was nothing else to do down there. Now it's pretty grown up, compared to what it was when we were down there."