South Carolina Sheriff’s Department pledges to ‘do no harm’

Richland County, South Carolina Sheriff Leon Lott and the Richland County Sheriff’s Department publicly pledged to “do no harm” to the communities they serve during a press conference held at the Law Enforcement Memorial on the grounds of the South Carolina State House in Columbia, Tuesday, May 3.

The pledge, as read by Sheriff Lott, states: “We, the members of the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, pledge that while doing our best to prevent and mitigate crime and criminal activity, we will do all that is in our power to do no harm to the communities we serve and protect. In fact, we see it as our responsibility as agents of peace to befriend each other and bring a tangible sense of security and harmony to those we have sworn to serve and protect.In this we promise, we will.

The peace officer’s pledge would be a reaffirmation of both the oaths taken by SC law enforcement officers and the specific oath of deputy sheriffs, part of which states:”[I] will conduct me at all times with due regard for all persons and will not be influenced in any matter due to personal bias or prejudice. So help me, my God.

The Richland County Sheriff's Department has publicly committed to

The Richland County Sheriff’s Department publicly pledged to “do no harm” to the communities it serves during a press conference on the grounds of the South Carolina State House in Columbia on Tuesday, May 3. (RCSD)

Reaffirmation is key, says Perry Bradley, a community activist and founding director of Building Better Communities, who added that the new pledge is a “wonderful step forward,” but communities themselves also have some responsibility.

“In a marriage, for example, a husband and wife may assume they love each other, but sometimes the simple declaration, I love you, is necessary,” Bradley said. “Words matter. It’s not that the police have or have necessarily acted wrongly, but there comes a time in a relationship – especially in the tumultuous climate we find ourselves in today following the death of George Floyd and with calls from some quarters to defund the police – where we simply cannot take things for granted.

Bradley added, “Sheriff Lott recognizes that, and that’s why he took the initiative to make this pledge which is already gaining momentum across the country.”

Lott and his department were the first to make the pledge, nationwide.

Since the announcement was made on Tuesday, nearly 100 other law enforcement agencies and national police organizations have followed suit in support of the pledge, including the Los Angeles Police Department, the National Sheriff’s Association, the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives, the National Policing Institute and the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

“The Peace Officers’ Promise offers police departments and communities another opportunity to mend strained police-community relations,” said Lisa Broderick, chief executive of Police2Peace, the organization behind the the promise of peace officers. “One of the ways the Promise achieves this is by encouraging both the police and the communities they serve to co-produce public safety. Co-producing public safety means that the community and the police both have a voice in defining what they want their police departments to look like.

Broderick added, “Simply put, the Peace Officers’ Promise is a national approach to police and community engagement where agencies build trust by reaffirming to their communities their dedication to protect and serve.”

The Promise isn’t the only national law enforcement initiative in which Lott and his Richland County Sheriff’s Department have been the lead agency nationwide. In 2018, the department participated in an ongoing academic study (aiming to determine word impact and public perception) by branding all of its branded vehicles with the words PEACE OFFICER. In 2020, the department retrofitted approximately 500 deputy uniforms (ballistic shirts and vests) with the words PEACE OFFICER sewn under the already existing words, DEPUTY SHERIFF.

In all three cases – the vehicles, the uniforms and now the promise – Lott said that by identifying his deputies as PEACE OFFICERS, his ministry is demonstrating to the public and communities within his jurisdiction that “our deputies are and will be a reassuring presence whatever the situation. Yes, we enforce the law: sometimes we are guardians, sometimes we are warriors, but most of the time we are peace officers. »

Making the pledge on the State House grounds, Lott, who was the 2021 National Sheriff of the Year and SC Sheriff of the Year, was joined by several of his deputies, also Bradley, Mr. Willie Kennedy and other community leaders, State Representative Beth Bernstein, State Representative Jermaine L. Johnson Sr., State Representative Leon Howard, State Representative Seth Rose and members of the Carolina Coyotes professional basketball.

In an interesting twist to a State House press conference, barbecue sandwiches were served up by Big Bull’s Bang’n BBQ and Southern Comfort Food in northeast Colombia.

RELATED: SC Sheriff’s Office to Add ‘Peace Officer’ to Deputies’ Vests

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Edward L. Robinett