COLUMBIA — Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott was named America’s best by the National Sheriff’s Association — the first time a South Carolinian has ever been granted that organization's top honor.
Lott was nominated by Lisa Broderick, executive director of Arizona-based nonprofit Police2Peace, for his early adoption of a "peace officer" decal that's been affixed to every cruiser since 2018, signaling his commitment and understanding of the need for community policing, she told The Post and Courier. Uniforms now have a patch with the same description.
"We feel there can be national cohesion around policing with the term 'peace officer,' and the Richland County Sheriff's Department has been instrumental in furthering this concept and exhibiting it as a philosophy," Broderick said. Lott's image is depicted on various parts of the Police2Peace website.
Lott's agency was among the first in the nation to embrace the "peace officer" concept, Broderick said, joining a municipal police department outside of Los Angeles. Today, more than 25 communities and departments in 14 states and Washington, D.C. that serve more than five million people have adopted the "peace officer" model, but Richland County is the sole participant in South Carolina, Broderick said.
"As a method of change, it seems the simplest thing imaginable," Broderick said. But it's based on years of research on implicit bias and the connection between words and emotion, Broderick said.
She and Lott met at a conference several years ago that was keynoted by Mitch Javidi, an expert in the decriminalization of mental illness, who introduced them.
"Sheriff Lott understood immediately the importance of this and how it could really transform policing in the country," Broderick said.
Lott, 67, has led the 700-deputy force since his 1997 election, running for the job after a three-year stint as chief of police in St. Matthews.
In a statement issued by the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, Lott said the recognition was an honor for himself and the state. The agency said Lott is the first from the Palmetto State to be named national sheriff of the year since the award was established by the association in 1995.
“To be recognized by this 81-year-old organization with a history going back to the 19th century in which some of the most important local and national law enforcement policy has been legislated, makes it all the more rewarding to me,” Lott said in a statement.
Lott was named S.C. Sheriff of the Year in 2004. He'll travel to Phoenix in June to accept the national award.
"Sheriff Lott has long been recognized as a leader in the law enforcement profession in this state. In recent years, Lott's progressive leadership and inclusive approaches have caught the attention of many statewide," S.C. Sheriff's Association executive director Jared Bruder said.
Broderick said she also nominated Lott for his use of planned walks that link his officers arm-in-arm with community leaders. That helps knock down barriers between police and the public by reducing misconceptions and erasing stereotypes each may have for the other.
Lott joined the sheriff’s department in 1975 as a patrol officer and worked up through the ranks as a criminal investigator, narcotics agent, administrative captain and watch commander.
He holds master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of South Carolina.