Community relations vital to effective modern policing

by SHERIFF LEON LOTT May 17, 2017

sheriff Lott _ full by tc 600 px

Building strong community relationships is not only a key component of effective policing in 2017; it may be the single most important day-to-day operational effort conducted by any law enforcement agency. Sounds like a simple feel-good statement. But it's so much more.

The failure to build strong community relations between the police and the various, socio-economically and ethnically diverse communities served by law enforcement is a proverbial recipe for disaster. In fact, I would argue that it was in many ways a failure of community relationship-building, in recent years, that allowed the seeds of distrust to germinate and ultimately boil-over (in the wake of shootings) in places like Ferguson, Baltimore, Milwaukee and elsewhere around the nation.

Here at the Richland County Sheriff's Dept. (RCSD) we've always striven to build and strengthen bridges. And it's worked.


The RCSD serves a deep-South, racially diverse population of nearly a half-million people. But rarely if ever will you hear of rioting and other forms of mass violence here in Richland County. Why? Because for years - through the incredible work of our Community Action Team, our Citizens Advisory Council (which includes members of the Black Lives Matter movement), and so many other programs and deputy-training evolutions - we've built an unshakeable culture of trust, respect, mutual-caring and frankly long-term friendships and family relationships between our department and the various communities that have not only benefited us in terms of keeping the peace, enforcing the law, collecting good intelligence on bad guys, and helping rid our neighborhoods of any criminal element that might otherwise move-in, fester and takeover; but our approach could easily serve as a model for the rest of the nation.


Recently, we were selected by A&E Television to be one of six featured law-enforcement agencies that A&E producers and videographers accompany on routine patrols for the hit television series, LIVE PD. As reported in local media, "LIVE PD is fast-becoming one of the most popular programs nationwide. ... [LIVE PD] is real-time dash-cam and other-video action coupled with the ordinary, remotely bringing everything from routine patrols and high-speed chases to domestic disputes and drug raids into viewers' living rooms, two nights a week."

We were selected for LIVE PD in large part because of our strong community relations, and the program has been wildly successful for the same reason.

LIVE PD reflects the great bridge-building work we've done within our respective communities and the reputation we have overall among not only the citizens we serve, but other law enforcement agencies across the nation. The program also benefits us in that it enhances the trust-factor that is so important to us, as viewers are able to experience what we do and how we do it, unfiltered and in real-time.


What viewers don't see on LIVE PD is that we don't simply smile and wave as we drive through neighborhoods. We sit down with our neighbors. We break bread. We facilitate community forums. We host kid-friendly carnivals and teen sporting events. We have pizza parties. And we meet with community leaders in some form or fashion nearly every day of the week.

For instance, we work - and regularly meet and have dinner - with leaders from Black Lives Matter (BLM). And we've been working with them since the movement began in the summer of 2013. We don't work against BLM, and they don't work against us. We work together, and our meetings are not one-sided with BLM making demands of us, or vice-versa. The conversations are blunt, honest, and wholly transparent.

I have found in these meetings that there are people living within our communities who have legitimate fears about who we are and what we do. They also have unfounded fears, because they've simply never sat down with a police officer on neutral grounds. We listen to them. They listen to us. We want to address their concerns. We want to right our own wrongs. And they want to do the same thing. A recent article in the Chicago Crusader said, "BLM is spending more time debunking falsehoods about the organization, shutting down rogue BLM chapters and organizing grassroots campaigns to address issues that affect the most vulnerable members of society."

Protests don't work, especially when violence erupts from protests. I think BLM is recognizing this. Reasoned discussion does however work. And I believe BLM honestly wants to bridge the divide between law enforcement and the African-American community (especially young people between the ages of 18, and perhaps younger, and age 35) as much as we do. And we have and will continue bridging the divide.


I'm proud of the RCSD's community relations platform. Our platform works, and I sincerely hope other agencies nationwide might consider developing similar bridge-building efforts.

We will continue to foster a culture within the RCSD of - as we like to say - building "unity in the community." But it is critical going forward that this same unity is built in those communities immediately outside of our jurisdiction and beyond. I see this not simply as a local or regional safety issue, but one of the many issues of national security.

Help Us Grow with flower

Leon Lott _ thumb 2016Sheriff Leon Lott leads the Richland County Sheriff's Dept., one of the largest law enforcement agencies in South Carolina, and one of six regularly featured LE agencies on A&E's hit TV series, LIVE PD. In 2010, Lott traveled to Erbil, Iraq - at the invitation of the Iraqi government - to assist in the establishment of, planning for, and training at the first-ever Iraqi female police academy.    

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