After 25 years as sheriff, Cannon still molding his legacy
Al Cannon is my pal of more than 50 years, and he is now quietly observing his 25th anniversary of service as Charleston County sheriff.
So, how’s he doing?
Cut through the rhetorical fog he too often creates for himself, and you see a darn good sheriff and a dedicated public servant.
But then there’s the bias of friendship in these words, folks, and besides, I live in Dorchester County, and L.C. Knight is my sheriff.
So hello, Charleston County, how is James Alton Cannon, Jr. doing?
A decade ago, a survey concluded that Al Cannon was the most trusted elected official in Greater Charleston.
Assuming that was true back then, would it be today?
Cannon’s professionalism and dedication to public service seem to define him. He’s a man of free flowing big picture thinking, and he’s always at work. With his black German shepherd, “Priss,” he rides his jurisdiction in a high-tech SUV, loaded with weapons.
He touts the loyalty and professionalism of his law enforcement and jailhouse staffs. He has cutting-edge theories on port security and anti-terrorism tactics. He maintains strong peer professional relationships with law enforcement practitioners all over the world. Currently, he’s working on the early June South Carolina Dialogue Foundation trip to Turkey.
The sheriff’s office and county police were consolidated in 1991, forming one of South Carolina’s largest law enforcement departments. Today, Cannon manages a $55 million budget and more than 900 people. He and his team have achieved the “Triple Crown” of accreditations. The law enforcement operation is now accredited. The new jail that bears his name was accredited two years after it opened. The jail’s in-house medical functions are now accredited through the National Commission on Correctional Health Care.
That adds up to an impressive record for the North Charleston kid who earned three degrees and once served as an Air Force Russian translator.
The sheriff is a tenacious policy strategist. He’s been through a few fruitless initiatives to consolidate police functions throughout Charleston County, but he’s never given up on the concept.
“Down the road,” he says, “I see the necessary consolidation of police services in the county. It’s no less critical, and no less doable than the consolidation of Emergency Medical Services and Emergency Communications.”
The Charleston County sheriffdom is a big job, and Al Cannon has detractors. Some argue that he has jeopardized his public service legacy with actions and statements that startled his trusting constituents. One community leader last year called the sheriff a “nut case.”
He pays little attention.
But maybe he should.
Solid public service legacies are easily fouled by pervasive distractions, even those that breed more on style than substance. Cannon has created a few for himself.
Was the biggest his chasing down and Patton-smacking that menacing driver last year?
Or was it his seemingly gratuitous statements last January suggesting that he might not enforce gun law amendments he considered unconstitutional?
The sheriff genuinely regretted his chase-and-slap incident. He self-reported and was charged with simple assault and booked into the new jail that bears his name. But if anything, the incident burnished his tough-guy lawman legend.
Many of his friends have wondered if attorney Al Cannon has thoughtfully reconsidered Sheriff Al Cannon’s statements about selective enforcement of gun laws. Surely, the sheriff would never willfully flout the law and assume extra-judicial authority.
Or would he?
“There’s a bigger-picture view,” Cannon says. “It’s that delicate balance between providing a level of order while protecting the freedoms that make us so unique.”
He fervently declares personal gun ownership is a “sacred constitutional right.” He cites impressive facts and figures, and in his view, America is having a hip-shooting reaction to gun violence. He makes an engaging point that mental health is a bigger societal issue than guns, noting that annually, there are more suicides than murders in America. And he often argues that bad guys denied guns would simply turn to other weapons to wreak terror and mayhem.
Last week, he was keen to press his Second Amendment position with the news that gun murders in the United States are down 39 per cent since 1993.
At 66 and fairly fit, Cannon never mentions retirement. He says he works with a sense of having been “called” to his position. “Because of all I have done and experienced, I have a bigger-picture-view of ‘the community,’ public safety and the role law enforcement plays in providing the fundamental level of order that allows people to live their lives without fear.”
Sounds pretty noble and trustworthy, huh?
And vintage Al Cannon.
So, Charleston County, my pal Al has been your sheriff for a quarter century.
How’s he doing?
Ron Brinson, a North Charleston city councilman, is a former associate editor of this newspaper. He can be reached at email@example.com.