RCSD holds first-of-its-kind joint community outreach meeting


Deputies meet with six migrant communities in outreach effort

By W. Thomas Smith, Jr.

The Richland County Sheriff’s Department’s (RCSD) Community Action Team (CAT) met, Sat. Jan. 18, with representatives from six migrant communities living and working in the Midlands of South Carolina to discuss issues ranging from crime trends to cultural fears associated with reporting crimes in their own countries of origin.

“This was the first meeting of its kind in which we simultaneously met with several different migrant communities,” says Capt. Rafael Gonzalez, commander of RCSD’s CAT Team. “The meeting was tremendously successful because we had great interpreters helping bridge any and all communications gaps, and everyone was striving to better understand one another from the other’s perspective and all the while seeking to build trust and friendships.”

The communities represented included migrant people – naturalized citizens, asylum seekers, and refugees – from the nations of the Congo, Tanzania, Uganda, Burma (Myanmar), Vietnam, and Eritrea.

“Our primary purpose was to educate and encourage members of these diverse communities living among us not to be afraid to report crime,” says Gonzalez. “There’s a lack of trust initially because these people come from regions of the world where law enforcement agencies and LE officers are often corrupt. But we are here to reassure and educate them, and they are pleasingly surprised when they begin to realize our sincere concern for their safety and well-being.”

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott agrees.

“Ongoing outreach programs and regular gatherings like this are all part of our culture of family and community here at RCSD,” says Lott. “And our CAT Team is a key facilitator in the furtherance of this culture. We want our citizens to trust us, and we them. It’s mutually and essentially beneficial to all.”

Gonzalez and his deputies also discussed with attendees the particulars of the 911-reporting system and the application and enforcement of laws related to domestic violence crimes.

“One of the best things about these meetings and conversations is that they afford us the opportunity to better understand the cultural differences from each country represented,” says Gonzalez.

The meeting was held at St. Andrews Park, a Columbia-area recreation facility operated by the Richland County Recreation Commission.

Pictured here among the migrant community representatives are Capt. Rafael Gonzalez (standing sixth from left) and Senior Deputy Daniel Mulcahy (eighth from left). Assisting the CAT Team were representatives with Lutheran Services Carolinas.

– For more information about the Richland County Sheriff’s Dept., visit RCSD.net.