By W. Thomas Smith, Jr.
The Richland County Sheriff’s Department (RCSD) is retrofitting some 500 deputy uniforms (both shirts and ballistic vests) with the words PEACE OFFICER stitched below the already existing words, DEPUTY SHERIFF. The 800-plus-deputy department will be the first law enforcement agency in the nation to do so, according to Lisa Broderick, executive director of Police2Peace.
“This unique move on the part of RCSD is being undertaken to convey messages of peace, security, reassurance during the current COVID-19 crisis,” says Broderick.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott agrees. “As we navigate through these uncertain times, the act of further identifying our deputies as PEACE OFFICERS is but another means by which we can demonstrate to the public and the communities we serve that our deputies are and will be a reassuring presence regardless of the situation,” said Lott. “A peaceful community is a far safer community.”
The PEACE OFFICER vest-branding initiative is a first for the nation, but not for RCSD in terms of firsts. In 2018, the Department took part in a still-ongoing academic study (aimed at determining the impact or words and public perception) by marking all RCSD vehicles with the words PEACE OFFICER. Other law enforcement agencies have since followed suit.
“The results have been impressive,” says Broderick. “Positive perceptions of safety and community engagement increased. Officers’ views of their roles in the communities changed. And a materially significant number of citizens who saw the decals versus those who did not reported that ‘people can change.’”
The study, inspired and facilitated by Police2Peace, was conducted by RCSD with assistance from BetaGov, an initiative aimed at promoting data-driven public policy innovations based at New York University.
Police2Peace is a national, non-partisan charity organization that offers help to law enforcement agencies, nationwide, in their development of community engagement and an ability to reduce “barriers with the police,” according to Broderick. “Our hope is that this PEACE OFFICER response will lead to changing minds and opening hearts for both citizens and officers.”