822. A Day in the Life–What's It Really Like to Be a Sheriff?
Sheriff Leon Lott
“If you’re really interested in law enforcement, just contact your local law enforcement agency and go by and visit them. Do ride-alongs. I did a ride-along when I was in college and we do ride-alongs with students now all the time. It kind of gives you a view of what real police work is all about. And Live PD, the TV show. That will also give you an idea of what we do. You can see the danger and you can see the excitement. You can see some of the stuff that we have to deal with now. Do your research, but there’s not a more rewarding career than being in law enforcement because you really can change people’s lives. And you can save lives.”
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott leads one of the largest sheriff’s departments (1,000 employees) in the Southeastern U.S., and is one of the regularly featured law-enforcement agencies on A&E’s television series LIVE PD. In 2010, Lott traveled to Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government to help that country establish its first-ever female police academy. RCSD continues an officer exchange program with Iraq and other foreign LE agencies. Under Lott’s leadership, RCSD was the first LE agency in the nation to establish a pre-PTSD conditioning program for deputies. Lott is also commander of the S.C. State Guard.
The Most Impactful Turning Point?
“When I was 16 years old, I was hanging out with some friends and one of them suggested that we go throw eggs at a police car—a silly prank boys sometimes did back then. Typical teenager that I was, I went along with them. So, we did and, of course, we got arrested. That really was a defining moment in my life that helped open my eyes up and realize the consequences of my actions in life. I had to wash a lot of police cars and do other chores under the watchful guidance of several police officers. When I was a senior at the University of South Carolina, I realized my dream of being a major league baseball player was not going to happen, and I reflected back to that experience and the powerful, positive impact those police officers had on me at an important turning point in my life. I knew I wanted to do the same for other people. I graduated from USC in May of 1975 and joined the Richland County Sheriff’s Department in June.”
The Most Powerful Lessons Learned?
1. I always hated math, but in the 6th grade my math teacher pushed me to work hard, never give up and excel at anything you set your mind to do. I never forgot those basic lessons. And today I’m pretty good at math, too!
2. When I joined RCSD in 1975, there was little to no training like we have today—you rode with a few seasoned officers for about a month and then they turned you loose. I learned from the ground up and the feedback and support from those officers was vital to my growth and performance. I stay in touch with many of them today.
3. The importance of constantly learning and researching cannot be over stated—I read incessantly. My deep dive in 1999 into the DNA work being done in England led to the formation of our own DNA Lab in 2004, which has put RCSD at the forefront of forensic work and helped us solve innumerable cold cases because of this capacity.
4. In the “old days” of law enforcement, our work was often focused on “catching bad guys.” Today we focus on building solid relationships within the communities we serve, building bonds that aid in preventing crime.
5. Few things are more satisfying to me than watching young deputies grow in their careers and being a part of their success. Equally gratifying is being a positive influence in the lives of the young people in our communities who may be going through tough times, but with our help and guidance are able to get their lives back on track and remain there.
Connecting With Sheriff Leon Lott
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