Recently, LAW Publications had a Community Engagement Award nomination event. The nominations, and our goal for encouraging them, were to recognize outstanding departments that really go above and beyond for their communities. Now, to be frank, it is very hard to narrow down who deserves the awards because, in our opinion, all are exemplary.
However, we chose to recognize and bestow the Community Event of the Year award upon Barnwell County Sheriff’s Office (SC). There are many reasons why they earned this prestigious award, and I was so excited to sit down with 1st Sergeant Eric Kirkland to learn more about him, his community, and the passion behind the badge.
Allow me to begin with an introduction to 1st Sergeant Kirkland (of community relations). The moment we spoke I could hear how kind this gentleman was. He was filled to the brim with current and future goals for his community. He is undoubtedly dedicated to the success of his community, and with his own hands, intends to repair any bridge that is cracked or broken between people and law enforcement. Eric has been committed to serving in law enforcement for 29 years. He spoke candidly of his interaction with police officers at a young age and how one man, in particular, was his role model. This man had such an influence on him that he decided to pursue the same career, and ironically, this man is now his boss.
This type of story clearly lays out the effects we as people, and officers in general, can have on younger generations. We have the ability to influence someone to either stray from a positive road or welcome them into a career and/or life of moral value with the ability to help others.
Community Involvement: A Top Priority
The Barnwell County Sheriff’s Office’s goals are simple, yet powerful. They focus on building community relationships and getting involved with the public in numerous ways. Realizing that the world is constantly evolving, they make it a priority to stay ahead and educate themselves continuously. Classes, training, and events are always in motion and they give precedence to education and staying ahead of the game.
There are numerous community-building events that Barnwell puts on. Dessert With A Deputy is a very sweet (no pun intended) occasion, where kids can come and have ice cream or cookies with them. They can ask questions, sit and just chat, or just enjoy their treats. Parades are also held where candy and junior sticker badges are given to the children. They have booths set up with our books, materials, and pamphlets where 1st Sergeant Kirkland promotes all as much as possible. He acknowledges the necessary knowledge within them that needs to be passed on.
In addition to all of the other amazing events they hold, they created a Law Enforcement Expo event where they had numerous law enforcement agencies come out from across the U.S. Nineteen civic, religious, social, and business groups participated as well, serving as vendors for the event. The invitation to attend was extended to anyone eager to be involved. Food was prepared by a local chef, and the fun was welcomed by everyone of all ages.
Putting Heads and Hearts Together
1st Sergeant Kirkland and the Barnwell Sheriff’s Office recognize all aspects of the needs within their community. All age ranges are catered to, and no one is ever turned away. He spoke of using many of our materials within his Community Diversionary counseling sessions. He earned a Master’s degree in Christian Arts and Pastoral Counseling, and it’s extremely important to him to be available to help at-risk youth needing to talk. As committed as he is, he not only hands out our material but his personal phone number as well. There is no day or night that he will not be available to someone in need.
“We have an abundance of great Law Enforcement and we will travel anywhere we can to get involved, and help in any way. Sheriff Steve “grits” Griffith, and his entire command staff fully support all efforts of community engagement, and any other issues that may need our assistance.”
In saying that, one event in particular that Eric thought of was really special to me. Barnwell Sheriff’s Office is truly exceptional for the way they step up, and step out, for any and everyone. They are unique, in my opinion, because of the creativity and compassion that they all seem to share. They put their heads and hearts together and decided to hold an event catered to only autistic children. They recognized the different needs they may have, and they had all law enforcement and first responders join in to create a day filled with activities solely for them.
“They were able to do anything they wanted with us by themselves. It was their special day. We loved every minute, and so did they. It was such a joy to see such happiness on their faces.”
1st Sergeant Kirkland, and the Barnwell County Sheriff’s Office clearly represent a force that is built with levels of respect, strength, empathy, loyalty, and a never ending pursuit of excellence.
“Our aim at Barnwell is to become role models, friends, and companions. We want to talk, and listen. We all want the same thing and what that comes down to is Unity. We are a department that really works to make a difference, and our focus is to encourage comradery, growth, and long-lasting relationships.”
“We will never stop evolving, and we will never turn a blind eye to the needs and aspirations of our community. We serve them. We will always do what is best for Barnwell County.“