Lander’s new police chief sees community relations as key
LANDER, S.C. (AP) — When Greg Allen was pursuing his criminal justice degree at S.C. State University, he was constantly watching shows such as “Matlock” and “In the Heat of the Night.”
These serialized cop dramas were compelling to Allen — the way these skilled investigators diligently pursued clues and leads until they wrapped up a case. That’s what he wanted to be.
Growing up in Calhoun Falls, his mother frequently told him she didn’t want him working in a plant, so he worked hard to chase down the life of an investigator as he saw it on TV.
“When officers were patrolling campus at S.C. State, I’d just stop and talk with them,” Allen, now 42, said. “I wanted to know about the job, what they did, everything.”
After getting his bachelor’s, he worked a security job, then landed a role in Anderson County’s probation and parole office before getting an offer from the Abbeville County Sheriff’s Office.
“Probation was like a family, and at the sheriff’s office I learned a lot under Sheriff (Charles) Goodwin,” he said.
It was there he learned the importance of communication and having trust in his fellow officers to do their jobs. Supervisors had to rely on the officers under them to do things right, and the sheriff encouraged shift commanders to step back and give officers room to grow.
And 2003 was a big year for Allen — he married his college sweetheart, Lolita, but it was also the year two of his fellow officers would die in a shootout with Steven Bixby. Fellow deputy Danny Wilson and State Constable Donnie Ouzts died in the shootout.
“I was in the car, the phone was ringing inside the house but we were on our way to Atlanta that day,” Allen said. “My wife answered the phone. All they said was that someone shot Danny, we need you.”
He remembers the day like it was yesterday, still. He left his cellphone in the car when he arrived at the scene, so his family didn’t hear from him for nearly a dozen hours, he said. After that day, he felt he needed to make a change.
Allen went on to work with a railroad company and picked up odd jobs here and there, but the birth of his son, Cameron, demanded he get a job that kept him closer to home.
“I missed law enforcement,” he said. “I called Sheriff Goodwin and said ‘Sheriff, I want to come back home.’”
But all the while, his wife had been telling him about a job opening at the Lander University Police Department. He decided to give it a try, pulling in and talking to the first officer he saw. Before he knew it, he was interviewing for the job and with a recommendation from Goodwin he landed it.
Allen has been with the department since 2007, and has worked a plethora of roles in the office.
“I was the youngest person here when I started because people who stayed, they stayed until they retired,” he said.
He worked investigations — his dream job back in his “Matlock”-watching days — and was eventually promoted to lieutenant.
“I noticed people were coming to me with their problems and issues,” he said. “I saw how Chief Eddie Briggs would tell people ‘All right, you’ve come to me with a problem, next time come to me with a solution.’ It doesn’t have to be the solution, just a solution.”
He found himself in a role doing a lot of public speaking, training and working with other agencies to build stronger community relationships, and was promoted to captain of support services. When Briggs retired as chief in August, Allen was named interim chief, and earlier this month he was officially made chief.
“I think he’ll do a good job,” Briggs said. “He’s certainly put the time in. He has the respect of the other officers there in the department as well as the respect of the Lander community as a whole.”
Briggs said Allen knows the department’s ins and outs, and he gets along well with students and staff.
Allen’s vision for the department is built on a backbone of trusting his fellow officers and engaging directly with the community they support. He hopes to train officers to teach self defense and safety classes for free to students and other community groups, and to involve students more with the police department.
“A lot of it is kind of leading by example,” he said. “When you walk through that door, I want you to know that you’re cared for.”
He’s had students ask about working with the department, and after a visit to the University of South Carolina’s police department, Allen said he gained some insights into how that might work: Having carefully selected students come in to review and take notes on police video clips.
“I’d like for them to ride with officers some too,” he said. “They can even help check residence halls, and it would be good for their resumes.”
He hopes to be able to expand the department and help create a strong positive image for them. The progress they’ve made, he attributes to his officers for making it possible.
“I just take things I’ve learned and try to apply them,” he said. “It’s not about me. What I do is I pray for it all, and if God sees fit, he makes it happen.”
Information from: The Index-Journal, http://www.indexjournal.com