Richland County Sheriff honored by the University of South Carolina
By W. Thomas Smith Jr.
The University of South Carolina presented Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott the honorary degree, Doctor of Public Service, during commencement ceremonies at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, Dec. 13. Lott was one of three receiving honorary doctorate degrees, including McGhee Williams Osse (Doctor of Humane Letters) and Nigel Redden (Doctor of Music).
“We are proud to recognize Sheriff Leon Lott, an outstanding alumnus of Carolina, for more than four decades of service to the state, the community, and the university; and for representing the finest traits and achievements of a true peacekeeper,” said USC Interim President Harris Pastides.
Lott, who holds degrees from both USC-Aiken and USC in Columbia, is a graduate of the FBI National Academy, the FBI National Executive Institute, Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and Furman University’s S.C. Diversity Leadership Academy. He earned a Masters in Emergency Management from Lander University in 2016.
Lott’s relationship and work with USC stretches back decades: For years, he has lectured and taught classes at the USC School of Law and USC’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice. He regularly speaks to USC’s athletic teams about safety, social issues, and team-and-community leadership; and his longstanding relationships with USC’s major sports head coaches and athletics directors have existed since he was first elected sheriff in 1996.
During natural disasters when USC needed additional on-campus police protection, Lott’s Richland County Sheriff’s Department (RSCD) responded in full. And RCSD has frequently been called upon for security and policing support during major university related events like football and basketball games.
“This is my university and I’ve always been there for the students, not only as sheriff, but as a fan and one of their biggest supporters,” said Lott, himself a starting pitcher on the USC-Aiken Baseball Team in the early to mid-1970s. “I attend all the home games. I speak to the teams every season, and I address the football team at least four times a year. I’m there to support the various coaching staffs as well.”
Lott’s citation for his honorary doctorate noted his successful community-oriented policing efforts, his department’s recent “peace officer” branding initiative, his command at the rank of brigadier general of the S.C. State Guard (a component part of the S.C. Military Department, which also oversees the S.C. Army National Guard, the S.C. Air National Guard, and the S.C. Emergency Management Division), and his myriad state, national, and international awards, honors, and recognitions during his nearly 50-year career in law enforcement.
A 2007 recipient of the Order of the Palmetto, the state’s highest award presented by the governor of South Carolina, Lott is the 2021 National Sheriff of Year (officially the recipient of the Ferris E. Lucas Award for Sheriff of the Year awarded by the National Sheriff’s Association) and the 2021 S.C. Sheriff of the Year (awarded by the S.C. Sheriff’s Association). The S.C. Sheriff of the Year award was presented by Gov. Henry McMaster and it marked the second time Lott received state Sheriff of the Year honors. Also in 2021, Lott received jointly with his department, the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Extraordinary Employer Support Award from the U.S. Department of Defense.