Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott was sworn in for his sixth term Tuesday morning in front of a crowd of approximately 2,000 at Central Baptist Church.
During the oath of office ceremony, Lott thanked his family, community members, and his deputies for supporting him. “Thank you, and as my friends in Iraq taught me some years ago when you say thank you and you really mean it, you put your hand over your heart and that’s what I’m doing today,” Lott said as he took the podium.
“I’m saying thank you to everybody in this room because everybody is this room has played some type of part in me standing here today,” he added. “It may have been 41 years ago when I started, or 20 years ago when I was elected sheriff, but everybody has helped me at some point in my career, so thank you.”
Lott, 62, has been head of the state’s largest law enforcement department since January 1997, and celebrated 20 years in office as he renewed his oath. He started his career with Richland County Sheriff’s Department as a patrol officer in 1975, working his way up to captain of narcotics, uniform patrol captain, and watch commander before he was elected Sheriff in 1996. The Aiken native graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology from the University of South Carolina and from the FBI Academy. Last June, incumbent Lott won his campaign against his opponent James Flowers with 76% of the votes.
Among the dignitaries in attendance Tuesday were Dr. William H. Jones, president of Columbia International University (who delivered the oath of office); the Rev. Ricky Ray Ezell, Sr., senior pastor of Central Baptist Church (who led the initial prayer and delivered the benediction); and Coach Dawn Staley, three-time Olympian and head coach of the University of South Carolina Women’s Basketball Team (ranked #5 in the AP women’s basketball poll).
Dozens of leaders from other local departments watched as Lott took his oath Tuesday. Throughout his most recent term, his deputies have collaborated with other agencies in the area, including the Forest Acres Police Department and Columbia Police Department (CPD) during investigations.
“I think we’ll see a lot of consistency with the work that’s going on in Richland County, as well as the collaboration between agencies, Forest Acres, CPD, other agencies as well the sheriff has worked hard to build that relationship, so we look forward to that moving into the future,” said Forest Acres Police Chief Marion “Gene” Sealy.
“We always work well together and I think with him being re-elected it’s going to benefit our department because they always work well together and I’m just so proud of his accomplishments,” said Columbia Fire Department Chief, Aubrey Jenkins
For years, Lott has had the support of members of the Richland County Council, including Councilman Jim Manning. “The way he works with other law enforcement agencies, including Fort Jackson and the other elected officials making sure everyone is on the same accord, working for the citizens of Richland County,” Manning said after the ceremony.
Among the Sheriff’s greatest bridge-building efforts has been the Citizens Advisory Council, “created way before we knew how invaluable it would be today,” said Lt. Curtis Wilson, RCSD public information officer. “It’s because of [Sheriff Lott’s] leadership that we didn’t have to face riots or major protesting here in Richland County. His decision to get out in front of every major issue the department has faced showed the community that there’s trust between the department and the community, and true transparency within the RCSD.”
The sheriff also looked toward the future Tuesday and noted the fast-changing technology and the young, new generation may bring new challenges to the department in his next term. “If you do the same thing today as you did yesterday, you’re going to be a day behind.” Lott said. “Law enforcement is a changing profession and we’ve got to change with it.”
Under Lott’s reign, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department has developed its own DNA Lab with the capability to test finger prints and evidence found at crime scenes, unlike other departments who send their evidence to SLED. According to Lott, the DNA lab will continue working to keep up with the latest technology to solve crimes.
“It’s about building relationships with the community, we need those strong relationships,” Lott said, “I still love it, as long as I still love it and the people want me to be here, then I’m going to be sheriff.”