Colleton County’s new sheriff has plans to boost morale in a department tainted by controversy and regain the community’s trust.

Andy Strickland will take over the seat left by former Sheriff George Malone, who decided not to seek a third term. Strickland, a Democrat, was elected Tuesday with 53 percent of the vote. He was up against Republican Marshall Morehead.

The sheriff-elect has spent 13 years serving in law enforcement as a deputy with the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office, a state Department of Natural Resources enforcement officer, a trooper with the S.C. Highway Patrol and, most recently, an officer with the Cottageville Police Department.

Community policing will be one of his priorities, Strickland said, and he’ll do that by re- organizing some of the sheriff’s office staff.

There are about 130 employees in the sheriff’s office and 60 of them are certified officers, a number Strickland would like to increase.

“I think there’s going to be some people in positions moved around, more people on the roads,” he said.

The Colleton County community was battered and bruised following a series of shootings and murders in 2009. Many of those crimes were linked to gang activity by the state grand jury in 2010. “There have been a lot of crimes in Colleton County and the biggest thing for me is to get in there and figure out what the problems are,” Strickland said.

The department has been the subject of controversy in the last two years. Malone’s wife was hospitalized in March 2011 after she fell from a moving vehicle during a confrontation with her husband’s administrative assistant.

Most recently, a former lieutenant with the sheriff’s office pleaded guilty last month to a federal charge for tipping a friend off about a federal drug investigation last year.

“I think there were some bad decisions that could have been made throughout the department and we look forward to bringing in a good team of people,” Strickland.

At 32 years old, Strickland said he didn’t let his age deter him from reaching what he calls his childhood dream of becoming sheriff of Colleton County, where he grew up.

“Old enough to know what to do and young enough to do it,” he joked.