Washington to head S.C. Police Chiefs Association
By Samantha Lyles
Darlington Police Chief Kelvin Washington has become the first law enforcement officer to head both the South Carolina Sheriffs Association and S.C. Police Chiefs Association.
When he takes over as SCPCA president in November, he plans to lobby legislators to fund incentives for police officers, and hopes to guide policy changes that will shape the future of policing in our state.
Washington was elected as president by his fellow SCPCA members this summer, marking the third time a Darlington Police Department chief has been so honored. Chief Roy Williams Jr. held the position in 1993, and Chief Jay Cox was elected as president in 2004.
“That’s pretty special. Some other departments have had two chiefs serve as president, but no city has ever had three. Darlington is the only one,” Washington says.
He was president of the S.C. Sheriffs Association from 2007 to 2008 while serving as Williamsburg County sheriff, an office he held for three terms before retiring. He served as U.S. Marshal for the District of South Carolina from 2010 to 2018 before coming to Darlington.
A big believer in inter-agency networking, Washington says the connections made and conversations held among law enforcement leaders can provide insights into problem solving, highlight policing methods that work (and those that don’t), and improve access to resources that make it easier and safer for officers to fulfill their duties.
“Whenever we are trying new initiatives, we can pick up the phone and talk with another department that has tried it. They can tell us what worked and what didn’t work for them. But I think the number one asset is access to resources from small and large departments, state and federal agencies,” says Washington.
As SCPCA president, Washington will have a seat at the table when South Carolina’s state and federal legislators discuss law enforcement issues, and he plans to advocate for fair funding allocations that do not penalize communities with lower crime stats (like Darlington), and incentives to recruit and retain new officers.
He observes that while low starting pay hinders recruitment, offering student loan forgiveness or tuition help could offset a new hire’s debt load and encourage them to pursue higher education. Health insurance premium discounts could also increase the job’s appeal, as could removal of the state’s $10,000 income cap for law enforcement retirees.
Washington also hopes to help legislators navigate the current pressures to defund police departments – a rallying cry among protest groups which he feels is misguided and counterproductive.
“Defunding the police should not happen, but I do believe there should be a transformation of sorts. There are things we ask police officers to do that they are not trained to do… they are not trained as psychologists or licensed counselors, but they often have to act in that role,” Washington says, noting that as other social safety nets (such as the mental health care system) were dismantled and defunded, those problems did not go away. They simply became the responsibility of police officers and other first responders.
“When I look at the calls for service over the last ten years and compare it to what we used to do ten or twenty years ago, it’s totally different. We’re being asked to do a little bit of everything. We get calls from parents who can’t get their children to go to school. We get calls to deal with mental patients,” says Washington. “Our officers do a great job, but they didn’t go to school and study four years of how to deal with all of these complex situations…so we are asking them to do a lot more than traditional policing.”
Washington says a big step toward improving the current climate is more open communication. To that end, SCPCA will participate in the “Faith in Blue” event Oct. 9 through Oct.11, where leaders from the law enforcement and faith communities will partner to show solidarity in communities across the country.
To learn more about the SCPCA, visit their website at www.scpolicechiefs.org