By Sheriff Rick Clark and Stinson Ferguson, Co-Chairs, Ten at the Top Safer Upstate Committee
While personal and community safety have always been vital components of society, the pandemic and social outcries of 2020 have made these topics top of mind for all of us.
Over the past several months, law enforcement, local government, non-profit, social services, and community leaders from across the Upstate convened four times as a discovery committee for a series of discussions around the topic of “Creating a Safer Upstate.”
We recognize the need to be proactive in discussing how and taking action to create a culture where the lives of all law enforcement officers and all residents are treated with equal importance.
Regardless of whether your experience or concern around the issue is from the perspective of law enforcement or as a member of the greater community, it is critical to understand that each viewpoint is authentic, relevant, personal, and deserving of understanding and consideration as we work to chart a better path forward.
Throughout our discussions, the Upstate leaders involved have prioritized purposeful listening, inclusion, and respect of diverse viewpoints.
We have concluded that creating and maintaining a “Safer Upstate” is ultimately not the responsibility of just one group. Each and every one of us plays an important role in the journey.
Certainly, our law enforcement officers play a critical role, and have a responsibility to seek to understand the communities to which they provide service. However, it is also the responsibility of our community leaders – both seasoned and emerging – to help foster a productive and fertile environment for collaboration among law enforcement and local communities.
After much conversation and deliberation, the discovery committee has decided to form the Safer Upstate Committee as part of the work of Ten at the Top (TATT). TATT is a regional non-profit working hard to foster collaboration and partnerships around issues that impact economic vitality and quality of life in the Upstate.
The purpose of the Safer Upstate Committee is to create a safer and more united Upstate Region where all law enforcement stakeholders work collaboratively with community leaders to foster a collective culture that respects and values the lives of all ofﬁcers and residents. The Committee intends to represent, support, and communicate local efforts to improve relationships between law enforcement and community residents across the region.
Three primary goals for the committee have been identified:
1. Engage law enforcement ofﬁcials, community leaders and residents to work together to build healthy working relationships that elevate mutual respect, value cultural differences, and acknowledge the roles and responsibilities that each play in creating safer Upstate Communities.
2. Provide regular opportunities for law enforcement and community leaders to convene to proactively discuss community issues and emerging law enforcement topics while exploring approaches that can be implemented across the Upstate Region.
3. Enhance public trust by identifying, sharing and implementing best practice approaches for developing a sustainable, healthy relationship between law enforcement ofﬁcials and the greater Upstate Community.
A series of action steps have been identified for each goal to help individual communities and the greater Upstate advance towards being a united region that values the lives of all officers and residents.
As natives of the Upstate, we are excited to serve as co-chairs of this initiative, but recognize that it is much easier to identify a shared purpose and series of goals than it is to execute the mission.
Creating a Safer Upstate will take a shared commitment by law enforcement, community & business leaders and residents to work together without assigning blame or supporting stereotypes. We invite you to join us on this critical journey.
You can read the full set of recommendations and committee action steps and volunteer to become involved in the Safer Upstate initiative at www.tenatthetop.org.
Rick Clark is the Sheriff of Pickens County and a lifelong county resident. Stinson Ferguson is Special Counsel for Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd Law Firm in Greenville and a native of Spartanburg County.