NEWBERRY COUNTY — Since 1989, Lee Foster has served Newberry County as the sheriff, but before that first election he had dedicated his career to the field of criminal justice.
Foster started on the path to law enforcement when he went to the University of South Carolina.
“I received an associate’s science degree in criminal justice and a bachelor’s of arts degree in applied professional sciences,” he said. “When I went through they did not have a full four year degree in criminal justice, so it is a degree that was guided toward criminal justice, it it was through sociology and government and humanities.”
Foster graduated from USC in 1979, but before that he already received experience in law enforcement. While he was in college he worked part time for the Prosperity Police Department, then when he was a senior in college, the town of Little Mountain hired him as its police chief.
“I worked there for a little over a year during my senior year in college, I worked there and went to college. To me, that was a critical component, that is where I cut my teeth on learning law enforcement, I really learned and understood the principals of community oriented police,” Foster said. “Law enforcement in Little Mountain was really like Mayberry. My time there, a little over a year, probably had more of an impression on me as a law enforcement officer.”
After graduating Foster started working as a deputy and a crime prevention officer.
“That was a program where you went around and worked with homeowners, schools, churches, to prevent crime before it took place, to look at strategies to reduce the opportunities of crime,” he said.
Slim Henderson was elected to the position of sheriff some time after that, and Foster was promoted to shift supervisor, which made him a lieutenant. While working under Henderson, Foster worked with investigations, narcotics and criminal cases, and was later promoted to captain, the third ranking position in the department.
In 1984 Foster accepted a position at the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy as a senior criminology instructor. He specialized in firearms, special tactics, police practices and civil liabilities.
“I actually enjoyed being the officer more, I had a great time and met so many wonderful people as an instructor, but the whole time I was there I really yearned to work back on the road, back in the street. Every chance I got, while at the Academy, I tried to work with SLED agents, and other state law enforcement agencies, just to stay active,” Foster said.
Foster stayed at the Academy until he decided to run for sheriff in 1988. There is a policy on the books that says you cannot be employed and run for a partisan office, so Foster had to resign, something he said he was willing to do.
Foster decided to run for office when Henderson was retiring. There were three people in the Democratic primary and Foster won with over 60 percent of the vote, he then ran against one opponent in the general election.
During his time in law enforcement, Foster has worked on a wide range of cases, some more prominent than others.
“A murder case that we worked, we had absolutely no suspects and the forensic technologist that worked with us was Newberry’s own Chuck Counts, who was working with SLED at the time. We all put our heads together and came up with a technique to develop a fingerprint on the body of the victim, never been done before and Chuck is now teaching that technique all over the world,” Foster said.
In addition, there have been a number of major narcotics cases that involved Newberry County and other countries like Mexico, Jamaica and Colombia. NCSO was the lead agency in solving those cases.
Foster was born and raised in Prosperity and went to Prosperity schools and Mid-Carolina High School, where he graduated in 1975. He was born to Dick and Jennylee Foster in 1957, the same year as the classic Chevrolet, he jokes.
He has been married to Carol Foster for 25 years and together they have two children — Joseph Foster, a senior at Newberry College who played football, and Amelia Foster, a sophomore at Newberry College.
“We are a very local family. My mother’s family has been here since Newberry County was founded,” Lee Foster said. “Truly Newberry born and Newberry bred.”
Foster is running in what will be his eighth sheriff’s election.
“I was relatively young to be running for sheriff, considering, at the time, most sheriffs were very senior law enforcement officers. Even though I had to quit my job to do it, it certainly did not guarantee I would have a job if I was not successful. I thought it was worth the risk for my community if I gave it a shot,” Foster said. “I had a number of people, like retired Police Chief Andrew Shealy, that felt like it was time for me to run.”
Foster believes the most important aspect of him is that he is a member of the community. When he worked in Columbia, he still lived in Newberry and commuted every day. He has been active in his church, Central United Methodist, and the community. He has been a volunteer fireman since he was 18.
He added that just because he is the sheriff he has never forgotten that he lived in Newberry County all his life.
“My children were educated here, as were we. We are very loyal to Newberry College, and because of those things we understand the community and we have a vested interest in this community because if the community cannot succeed we cannot succeed, I think that is important,” he said. “The real experience that I have combined with the understanding of the community, the fact that I have worked major cases, fact that I have developed relationships with other law enforcement agencies across the United States is critical to today’s environment.”
Foster added that just because he is experienced does not mean that he is going to rest on his laurels, and he continues to look for new and innovative ways to improve law enforcement and improve the Newberry County community.
As a sheriff in South Carolina, certain qualifications must be met, which includes, but not limited to, both education and experience. Foster says he meets all of the qualifications, certainly the education and experience requirements.
Reach Andrew Wigger at 803-276-0625 ext. 1867 or on Twitter @TheNBOnews.