School of Public Service and Administration, Command College
Command College graduate’s passion for serving his community gets noticed nationally
Cultivating community is more than just a catchy phrase for Lt. Eric Kirkland, a graduate of the Command College of South Carolina, part of the Anderson University School of Public Service and Administration. In his role with the Barnwell County Sheriff’s Office, a law enforcement agency in the lower part of South Carolina, community relations means being a positive role model for youngsters and helping others in need. Lt. Kirkland received national recognition from LAW Publications, which presented him with the Excellence in Community Engagement Award.
How did you get into law enforcement?
A lot of my role models were law enforcement officers that I knew in town that always had time for me. No matter where I was, they always took time to talk to me, to guide me. Probably as early as the sixth grade I wanted to be a law enforcement officer, and that never went away.
I went on to do other things. I worked at a textile mill and worked at a local business (Spin Bard Records and Moore). The haunting of trying to be a law enforcement officer stayed with me. Every time I would bring it up, my mom would tell me was not particularly fond of the idea. She was afraid for her only child to get into a field that could ultimately get him killed, obviously. One day I decided to go against the grain and I put in an application with the Barnwell County Detention Center, and from there, 31 years later, here I am doing something that I absolutely love.
How did you find Anderson University?
I was working for the Lexington County Sheriff Department at the time. At that time, the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department sent their career professionals through the Command College at Anderson.
Being that I just got my bachelor’s from Voorhees University, I was looking for a master’s program and knew that several of our employees had successfully completed that program. I didn’t know if I was qualified or not because I wasn’t a lieutenant or captain at Lexington. So I inquired first with a Captain there who told me you will nopt get in because you were not a Captain here Mr. James R. Metts was the sheriff at Lexington at that time. He was also an instructor at the Command College, so I went and knocked on his door and asked if I could talk to him, I said politely “Sheriff Metts, I realize I’ve never been a lieutenant or a captain here at this department, but if given the opportunity to go to Anderson University and get a chance to represent this agency. I said I will not make you sorry you gave me the chance if you would do that.”
He asked Mrs. Dale Blackmon, who was his secretary at the time, to get on the phone and call George Ducworth and tell George "I've got one of my lieutenants.” And I wasn’t a lieutenant there, but a lieutenant from another agency (Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Office previously. He said “Tell him that one of my lieutenants is coming up there and he’s applying to the Command College and I think he’ll represent this agency well.”
So, later on that day I got a call from Mr. George Ducworth and the rest is history. Greatest program I’ve ever been in in my life and I learned so much valuable content that I apply still today in my present role as Community Relations.
What are some ways your education in the Command College has helped you in your profession?
Coming to Anderson University, everything there was spiritual. I’ve always been raised in a spiritual household. My mom always had me in church. So coming into the Command College… every assignment we had at Anderson tied biblically into real world issues.
I kind of look at law enforcement as mission work, as we all should. We should all exercise our daily roles under the parable of the lost sheep. You know, God cares about the 99, but we as law enforcement get an opportunity to reach the ones that got away—those lost sheep, those children that are going through addiction, bulllying, suicide, mental crisis, domestic violence, or hardships at home. Law enforcement, if we use the right tools and if we can apply ourselves, we cannot only save them but we get an opportunity to tell them at some point and time about a man called Jesus.
So we get to incorporate the two, but we have to have the training, and Anderson University gave me that training. I was taught to be a cop, but Anderson prepared me to be empathetic, compassionate, and combine the two. As a result I came to the Command College as a rookie, but left as a true seasoned Criminal Justice Professional equipped with the tools to create change in a profession that I feel is the greatest in the world.
Early in your career you left home to pursue other career opportunities. Tell us about that.
I went from Barnwell County to the Orangeburg County Department of Public Safety. We were a combination of firefighters and law enforcement. I did that for about three years and then I went over to the Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Office. I rose to the rank of lieutenant there, and when I got sent to training in 2000, I went up for training and I fell in love with Lexington County. I came back with an application, and two weeks later I had a job, and I stayed there for 18 years.
And then you came home.
I have to be honest, it’s a place I said I never would come back to, but you never say never. Lo and behold, fast forward years later, I decided I wanted to come back home. I’m an only child. My mother’s 80 years old. I just wanted to be back close to home. I saw the sheriff Steve Griffith one day and I asked him, “You got a job for me? I want to come back home.”
Their thing was at that time they couldn’t pay me because the money I was making In Lexington can no way equate to the amount of that salary, but what I learned over the years was money isn’t everything. Happiness supersedes money by a longshot, and I really wanted to be happy. I wanted to be back here where my roots were. I wanted to practice law enforcement and take everything I’ve learned and bring it back into the community where I grew up.
So the sheriff thought I was joking. I said “leave an application in my mailbox.” I left the application in the mailbox, he came back by that Friday and I was getting sworn in that following Monday. That was not in my blueprint when I left here. November 2018 is when I came back home.
No regrets! This has been the most rewarding part of my career because I always thought coming back here would be a huge burden for me, because I thought “me locking people up, people I know… oh my gosh, my mom’s gonna have to deal with it.” It’s been the total opposite. Now my phone rings constantly, but I’m finding that even the elderly people that weren’t elderly back then, they call on me a lot. They have known me since I was a small boy and now they have someone they know in law enforcement to help them and sometimes just listen to them.. It really does matter and does make a difference.
You were recently honored by a national law enforcement publication. Tell us about that.
It was LAW Publications. They are a national company that distributes free books, badges and coloring books to over 5,000 law enforcement agencies. They are very big on community policing and they use those books and those badges and those bracelets as simple engagement tools. They give them to officers to use them to open dialog and get closer to the community and to the children. So I started taking advantage of them. I go into Walmart and I have badges in my pocket that say “Barnwell County Junior Deputy” and I just pass them out, and I don’t know who’s happier to get it, the children or the parents. They really do go a long way to kids. Every time they have an event… I’m notorious for walking through events, handing little kids badges and bracelets. In the Command College we learned that we have to be the change that we want to see happen. If we are to save our youth then it is incumbent on us as law enforcement to formalize the positive relationships with them and that begins with kind acts whenever we can.
I just started sending them clippings of a lot of the events that we put on here with Sheriff’s blessings, obviously. Every time there’s an opportunity for an event, I put out all of the Law Publications’ coloring books and materials. The partnership has been awesome and fruitful for both Law Publications and our community as a whole.
I took one event from Lexington County and brought it back to Barnwell, last year actually and did a Stuff A Bus event. I was the community relations sergeant in the north region, in the Irmo area when I was in Lexington.
(In Barnwell) I did something different from Lexington. I got the juniors and seniors from the Career Center. I gave them the chance to partner with us. We did a Stuff A Bus event and were able to bless 245 needy children in and around Barnwell County. And the ones that couldn’t come and get the toys, we had them delivered to their locations, so we know that on Christmas Day we were fortunate to bless that many homes.
I talked the sheriff into letting me the day before Thanksgiving on the 23rd, partner with Healing Partners, Golden Harvest Food Drive and again our high school students. From nine o’clock that morning until 2:30 we had a food drive until we ran out of food, we were able to bless 745 people the day before Thanksgiving. We know on Thanksgiving Day, 745 people had food because we were out there the day before.
How would you describe the Barnwell County Sheriff’s Office?
In our office, we have 83 officers—that’s a combination of investigations, patrol, SRO’s, process servers, animal control, litter control. We are like family here and our leadership does an excellent job of taking care of the employees. Sheriff Steve “Grits” Griffith has known me all my life and was one of the many officers who talked to me as a youth. Would have never dreamed I would be working for someone who had such an impact on me as a youth, but honored to serve under and alongside him. He has entrusted me with a huge responsibility which is Community Relations. A responsibility I don’t take lightly.
Share about the joys and challenges of your job.
The Good Lord has really made the challenges and obstacles few and far between. In His Word he says candidly, “No weapon formed against thee will prosper.” He never said they would not form, only they would not prosper. In community relations and in society today our greatest and most important part of the societal circle is our youth. On a national scale, many youth do not have a fondness for law enforcement and that is a huge concern to me and our agency. With the Sheriff’s blessings I spend an enormous amount of time in our schools speaking on issues such as vaping, attitude, responsibility, conflict resolution, and social media. Many of the programs that we have are directly related and aimed at correcting the issues that attract our youth namely gang activity. The joys is we have been successful in getting our youth to participate and work alongside at our events.
The Good Lord has already paved the way and I think if we just follow His instructions the path is laid clear.
This job that I’m doing now is called community relations. Once upon a time this was an everyday part of an officer’s duty and responsibility to engage with the community. Its reactive law enforcement and it has changed over the course of time.
The problems we have right now with the gangs and an abundance of issues is kind of our fault. It’s not a result of what we did, it’s the result of what we stopped doing. We had role models that told you right from wrong. You fast forward now and we have older people trying to entice young people to do wrong. And if you ask these children why they join a gang—which I do all the time—they get from gangs what they’re not getting from home—love, attention, respect, support—all of those things they’re supposed to be getting from home but aren’t getting because there’s no one there. So as much as we get to intervene and interject and hopefully what we give them will actually be the deciding factor when they get to the crossroads of if you go right or go left to go wrong. We’re trying to make a difference.
Why would you recommend the Command College?
If you’re good, they make you better. From the start of that program until the very end, that is a futuristic blueprint to give you everything you need to be a future chief, a future sheriff or a future head of an agency. When I came out, my writing was impeccable, my ability to research case law and know how to successfully find it and apply it increased—everything in every aspect of my law enforcement realm just soared, even my leadership skills got better. I no longer thought like a regular police officer, I thought like a criminal justice professional. There is a difference. The Command College is for that individual who desires to be the change by preparing you for success. We touched everything from policies to even how to handle the media when a crisis occurs. There was no stone unturned. Every aspect of a futuristic law enforcement agency that had complete trust and transparency of a community was what I would say is the end goal. But that begins with quality training and education and that is the Command College.
Last year we had 96 events. I orchestrated and strategically planned every one of those events using a system that I learned at the Command College. That is the truth.
What advice would you give someone wanting to enter law enforcement?
I can tell you what was told to me a long time ago and it’s going to sound extremely off the collegiate level, but when I got into law enforcement a long time ago, my uncle, Captain Luther Gadson, formerly of the Barnwell Police Department (deceased) told me, “You want to be a law enforcement officer? Always treat people like you want them to treat your mama.” And at 21 I’m looking at him and I’m going “that’s corny.” Fast forward years later now, it does come full circle. Be the officer that’s full of integrity, full of moral standards and exemplifies professionalism on and off duty. Nowadays we’re depending on officers to make good sound decisions with no training and we have to be held to a higher standard.
My wife said I shave too much. My uniform’s pressed. I wash my patrol car before I leave the house—all those things. If you’re going to be in the public eye as a law enforcement officer, remember, on duty or off, you are a law enforcement officer.
It’s a great thing to be recognized, but I’m doing something that I absolutely love. It’s servanthood—that’s what it is. This job has to be in your heart. You cannot just want to be a cop, it has to be in your heart and you have to know that we do more than just lock people up. We do an abundance of things. A law enforcement officer of today is a community resource. I have food in my car. If I run across people who don’t have food I pass out food. I have people that call me when they don’t have clothes. A young man didn’t have shoes the other night. I couldn’t get anybody to do it, so Friday evening I went and bought him a pair of shoes. We do those things. Homeless people walking in the bitter cold, don’t leave them walking in the bitter cold. When you pass by them, they become your issue. You take care of that issue. We have hotels here in Barnwell. Get them to a safe place. That’s what you should expect from law enforcement, not just showing up to lock people up. This is way more than Chicago P.D. We are full-fledged servants, and we have to be that at heart. So if this is you full circle then you will make an excellent officer so go for your dreams just as I did.