Lott urges audience to mentor kids and lead with care
By W. Thomas Smith Jr.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott discussed the finer points of his personal leadership tenets with a sterling group of 40-45 LEADERSHIP SOUTH CAROLINA (LSC) candidates nearing the completion of their eight-month program, Thursday, March 30. Having gathered at various locations statewide since September, the candidates met for the day’s training in the Solomon Blatt Building, S.C. State House complex.
Lott was introduced as the twice-elected S.C. Sheriff of Year and the 2021 National Sheriff of the Year before launching into his remarks about his own brand of leadership. “It’s all about caring,” he said. “If your people know you sincerely care for them – personally as well as their family – they are going to do a great job for you, and the people you serve will fully support you.”
Lott should know: Having been elected and reelected to the office of sheriff every campaign cycle since 1996, his Richland County Sheriff’s Department (RCSD) has been widely recognized and heralded as one of the premier law enforcement agencies in the nation. RCSD has achieved a number of historic FIRSTS: Everything from the department’s pre-PTSD conditioning program (the FIRST training curriculum of its kind in the nation) to Lott’s helping establish the FIRST female police academy in Iraq during the final days of the war, to RCSD being among the FIRST and only continuously featured law enforcement agencies to appear on the top-rated television series LIVE PD and On Patrol: LIVE.
Beginning in 2018, RCSD also become the FIRST agency nationwide to inaugurate the peace officer branding initiative, initially emblazoning all of its marked vehicles with the words PEACE OFFICER. The department later retrofitted approximately 500 deputy uniforms (both shirts and ballistic vests) with the words PEACE OFFICER. Lastly, in 2022, RCSD made the nation’s FIRST “peace officer promise,” essentially a pledge to do no harm to the communities served by RCSD.
“These initiatives are expressions of our caring and they change the perception of who we are as a department,” Lott told the LSC candidates. “Three percent of our time is involved in enforcing the law. The other 97 percent we are keeping the peace and serving in the capacity of peace officers.”
Lott spoke at length about criminal activity within Richland County. “The biggest problem is gun violence,” he said, “And 95 percent of violent crimes are being committed by five-percent of people, often repeat offenders.”
The problems Lott said are with a small group of criminals who are arrested by his deputies and officers from neighboring jurisdictions, then released by the courts wherein those same criminals repeat the process often with murderous results.
“There are children in some of our neighborhoods who literally sleep at night in bathtubs as a means of shielding themselves from bullets which may be fired into their homes,” Lott said. “They are afraid. Their parents – often single mothers – are terrified. And then those same children are expected to attend school the next day and perform academically as well as other students. We have to care enough as leaders to correct this.”
Lott discussed the consequences of children with guns and a culture in which gun violence or the threat thereof is all many of those children have experienced. The solution? “Education and life skills,” said Lott. “And taking children to church every Sunday just like you and I did when we were kids.”
Lott added: “Everyone sitting here in this room today has an opportunity to reach out to a young child and show you care. Not simply an opportunity, but a responsibility to do so.”
According to Lott, RCSD’s many child mentoring programs are making a difference. He pointed to RCSD’s school resource officer program where deputies in schools protect, interact with, guide, and set the example for schoolchildren on a daily basis. He also pointed to the nationally recognized D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance and Education) program, proven to be successful in Richland County, as well as other RCSD diversionary programs for children.
“It’s all about teaching kids to make good decisions, and getting to them early enough in their lives to make an impact on the choices they make,” Lott said. “All kids want two things from us: They want to be loved, and they want someone to spend time with them. You cannot say that’s not my child or that’s not my neighborhood.”
Following his address, Lott fielded several questions including those leading to discussions about RCSD’s community policing efforts through CAT (Community Action Team) deputies and other patrol deputies, school-shooting threats and RCSD’s notably quick and effective response to the same. He also discussed the culture of trust that exists between the department and the communities served by RCSD.
“We don’t have to react in the way other jurisdictions might whenever a crisis hits,” said Lott. “We have long established relationships and friendships with all of our citizens across the spectrum of diverse communities we serve. So whenever there is a crisis, the foundation of trust has already been developed and is in place.”
LEADERSHIP SOUTH CAROLINA was established in 1979 by the S.C. Governor’s Office with a mission of developing a core group of the state’s up-and-coming or already serving leaders. LSC prepares men and women who can serve on statewide boards and commissions, run for public office, and otherwise serve their communities.
The current LSC class will graduate later this month.
– Pictured (L-R) are Katherine Cupp, LSC program administrator; Helen Munnerlyn, LSC executive director; U.S. Army Major Chris Turner, LSC board of directors; and Sheriff Leon Lott. (photograph by Joye King, RCSD)