Five questions for Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott

by W. THOMAS SMITH, JR. July 21, 2016

In the wake of the nationwide ambush-shootings of police officers and the obviously escalating polarization between law enforcement and many within America's largely African-American communities, Richland County (South Carolina) Sheriff Leon and his Richland County Sheriff's Dept. (RCSD) reflect an entirely different dynamic wherein a mutual respect and public trust seems to exist between all parties. This was clearly demonstrated in last month's S.C. Democrat primary in which Lott easily defeated former SLED (State Law Enforcement Div.) agent James Flowers, an African-American challenger, in a county that is nearly split down the middle in terms of Black-White racial makeup (45.9 are black or African American, and 47.3 percent are white) not including other races.

As we recently reported, Lott's success as a public servant, is largely due to his establishment - beginning many years ago - of a culture of community outreach developed not by "simply knocking on doors, standing on the front porch and talking. [Lott] steps inside, sits down and breaks bread with families."

Lott, who commands 800-plus uniformed RCSD-officers and 100 civilian employees, recently spoke to us this week, discussing the very bridges built and relationships developed by his department, and why - despite what we are witnessing nationally - Richland County is where in his words, "a sense of family trumps political division."

QUESTION: YOU WON OVERWHELMINGLY IN THE RECENT DEMOCRAT PRIMARY. YOU SEEM TO HAVE WON THE TRUST OF THE PEOPLE REGARDLESS OF DEMOGRAPHIC OR POLITICAL STRIPE. WHAT DO YOU ATTRIBUTE THIS TO?  

SHERIFF LOTT: I am a sheriff for all citizens. I always have been. That's been my approach and my personal desire - and where my heart has been - for all the communities in S.C. that I've served throughout my entire law enforcement career. My decisions are not - and have never been - based on race, sex, or politics. They are based on people, on the law and what's right. And because I've gotten to know the people in the various communities in Richland County and they now know me, there is an unwritten though all-encompassing trust that exists between us that frankly makes my job easier, infinitely more rewarding and our communities safer.

QUESTION: HOW IS YOUR RCSD UNIQUE FROM OTHER SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENTS AND POLICE AGENCIES NATIONWIDE? 

LOTT: Two ways. First, I believe we are a very forward-thinking department. We are always looking to the future in terms of new technologies and programs we might implement as a means of better protecting both our deputies and the citizens of Richland County whom those deputies are sworn to protect. I don't take this lightly. To be effective, law enforcement has to be creatively proactive in terms of effort and procedure, and we have to be innovative in terms of equipment and technologies that are always coming on line. We are both. 

Second, we involve and include the county's citizens in everything we do. We are a very transparent department. And we have been very successful in establishing something of a familial culture between myself, my deputies and all of our citizens. And if I may add, we are one big family. We love each other, and we love the community we serve. This is key, and I'm very serious about this.

QUESTION: WHAT WAS THE IMPETUS (PERHAPS THE SINGULAR REASON) FOR THE CREATION AND IMPLEMENTATION OF THE RCSD'S PRE-PTSD CONDITIONING PROGRAM?  

LOTT: I have personally witnessed deputies lose their careers over post-traumatic stress disorder. I wanted to be proactive and prevent that from ever happening again. As I've said before, this type of training is critical to the well-being of our people. Most civilians cannot relate to the effects of a critical incident or repeated incidents on a person. PTSD is real. It's damaging. And I want to ensure my deputies are able to recognize it in themselves and others. So I believe it's best to confront PTSD head-on through a process of first understanding the risk and the disorder at the front of the pipeline as opposed to simply trying to deal with it post-trauma.

QUESTION: IT WAS APPARENT THAT WHEN THE OCT. 2015 FLOOD-EVENT STRUCK S.C., THE RCSD WAS WHOLLY PREPARED FOR ANY AND ALL SCENARIOS STEMMING FROM THE FLOODING. WHAT DO YOU ATTRIBUTE THIS TO?

LOTT: It's simple. We live by the Boy Scout motto, "Be Prepared." We were and are. But in addition to our being prepared, the success of our response had everything to do with strong top-level relationships between the leadership of all law enforcement, the military, and the various other emergency response agencies involved. We were in constant communication with one-another, everyone was thinking outside the proverbial box. We were working together over a broad table. We were in the affected communities, and we were all on the same page sharing information and resources.

QUESTION: HOW PREPARED IS THE RCSD IN THE EVENT OF A TERRORIST ATTACK, WMD ATTACK, OR MASS-RIOTING?

LOTT: Again, it's about "being prepared." We have always been - and will always be - prepared for any and all threats. And this preparation is achieved through intense, realistic, effective training in all threat-scenarios and environments. We have the best equipment and the finest, best-trained personnel to address any critical incident.

W. Thomas Smith Jr. - a former U.S. Marine rifleman - is a military analyst and partner with NATIONAL DEFENSE CONSULTANTS, LLC. Visit him at http://uswriter.com.



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