The next time you see a Richland County deputy, you may notice something different on their uniforms.
To be specific — it’s their patch.
In addition to “Deputy Sheriff,” the patches on the uniforms and vests of the deputies will now say, “Peace Officer.”
On July 2, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott announced that the department had retrofitted all of the uniforms and vests of deputies with the new patch, culminating an effort to shift the department’s culture that started nearly a decade ago.
The groundbreaking initiative is the result of a partnership with Police2Peace, which started with adding decals to all of the department’s vehicles that read “Peace Officer.”
“The initial positive response to the vehicle decals from Richland County citizens reassured us that we were on the right path,” Lott said. “So, we continued forward, most recently adding it to our uniforms.”
Adding the words to the agency’s fleet and uniforms came at no cost to Richland County taxpayers, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive, according to an independent research collaboration with New York University called Betagov.
“Police2Peace represents a cultural shift from recruiting and hiring for the adventure of policing to returning our officers to their roots found in penal codes that call officers, ‘Peace Officers’,” said Lisa Broderick, executive director of Police2Peace.
“It is no surprise that Sheriff Lott and RCSD recognized this profound shift long ago,” Broderick added.
The initiative was part of a transition Sheriff Lott began in 2012, when he set out to shift the department’s culture away from warrior policing — which is commonly associated the traditional views of police work — and toward a guardian policing, which aims to build trust with citizens.
The first step toward reform started with an “Employee Commitment to Standards of Professionalism and Excellence” document that all deputies are required to sign. The document addresses overarching concepts such a compassion, dignity, integrity and transparency.
In 2015, Sheriff Lott continued the effort by reinforcing nearly 60 recommendations presented as part of then-President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
There were six main “pillars” the initiative called for: building trust and legitimacy; policy and oversight; technology and social media; community policing and crime reduction; training and education; and officer wellness and safety.
Then, Sheriff Lott held in 2016 a Summit on 21st Century Policing so that the community could compare the recommendations to RCSD’s policing approach.
Finally, in 2018, added decals to all of the department’s vehicles that read “Peace Officer.”