Oconee County Sheriff Mike Crenshaw, With Challenges and Change on the Horizon, Begins His Third Term as Sheriff

This is part two of a two part feature story on Oconee County Sheriff Mike Crenshaw as he begins his third term as Sheriff of Oconee County. Part two looks at the third term, with challenges and change ahead on the horizon.

Submitted by Master Deputy Jimmy Watt

Law enforcement is a fluid profession. Change is a constant in the life of law enforcement officers and a law enforcement agency.

The last eight years have been some of the most defining years for law enforcement in the United States. From Ferguson, MO to George Floyd to changes in Presidential Administrations to the call for law enforcement reform at home and elsewhere, Mike Crenshaw has seen these events from the platform as Sheriff of Oconee County.

Now, as the Sheriff begins his third term, he has also been heavily involved in the crafting of potential law enforcement reform legislation with his duties as President of the South Carolina Sheriff’s Association.

As he has reflected on his first two terms, the Sheriff acknowledges that there have been certain items of emphasis that he wanted his administration to focus on during the first two terms.

“You know, for me, the first term after becoming Sheriff, I wanted to make sure that we got the infrastructure, if you will, or the foundation in place,” says the Sheriff. “I guess when it comes to community minded policing and getting to know our citizens, I really put a lot of focus into our mission statement and our vision statement about building relationships and partnerships so that everyone who works for me understands the expectations, the what and the how of doing what we are going to do, the why we do what we do.”

“I restructured some things and it doesn’t seem like that it has been eight years. It has gone by in a hurry for me,” continues Sheriff Crenshaw. “Sometimes circumstances and things that happen in our county kind of can change your priorities depending on what’s happening. If you remember that first term, we put a big focus, based on some circumstances that were happening in our county, on domestic violence. We were able, with the help of the citizens of our county, to get the first domestic violence shelter on board. I wanted to put a big focus on narcotics and restructured some staff there to keep constant pressure on drug dealers year round. My way is to keep constant pressure on drug dealers year round. I told our narcotics agents and staff that ‘I did not want to do a once a year or twice a year big drug roundup.’ I wanted us to do them throughout the year.’”

Staffing and salaries were a huge focus for Sheriff Crenshaw in his first term, as during that time, salaries for deputies and correctional officers were increased from around $29,000 a year at that time up to $35,000 a year now. While staffing and salaries continued to be a focus in the second term, the Sheriff’s Office also increased its use of technology, with Pursuit Alert, Smart 911, upgrades in the communications center and the Sheriff’s Office app being introduced for increased safety and transparency to the citizens of Oconee County.

Focuses for the Third Term

With the beginning of Sheriff Crenshaw’s third term, the Sheriff has been looking ahead to another focus for the agency: developing future leaders. Leadership has often been discussed by the Sheriff in his first two terms regarding Community Policing and building bridges between deputies and the Sheriff’s Office through various types of community outreach. However, the Sheriff began spelling out more of what he believes leadership development is all about, even before the third term began.

“Since I have been Sheriff in the last eight years we have had about 25 veteran officers to retire. These are officers that have been here, at a minimum, for 25 years, and some of them, 30 to 35 years,” says Sheriff Crenshaw. “So, it is hard to replace that experience. My focus this next term is to really focus on leadership development. Just recently this year, we changed the name of our Training Unit to our Leads Unit. Leads stands for “Law Enforcement Education and Development.”

“I am currently meeting with all of the staff. The title I have as Sheriff is currently a rented title. I do not own this title. And one day, the voters may decide to remove that title from me or I will retire and that title will go to someone else,” continues Sheriff Crenshaw. “I feel like the rent that I pay on the title I currently have is providing safety and security for our county as well as growing future leaders.”

Another goal for Sheriff Crenshaw in the third term is for the Sheriff’s Office to become an officially accredited agency.

“(In regards to accreditation), it is standards that you meet or the best practices that lets your citizens know that we are an accredited agency and that we are following the best practices as recommended by law enforcement,” says Sheriff Crenshaw.

And as mentioned previously, salaries for deputies and employees of the Sheriff’s Office will continue to be a focus in the third term, as it has been in the first and second terms. Sheriff Crenshaw says that law enforcement agencies are not only being asked to do much more in the 21st century, but they are in competition with private sector industry and business, which can offer greater salaries and benefits than what public sector agencies can, and that includes law enforcement.

“I think salaries will play a role in that as well and making sure we can recruit the best person for the job,” says Sheriff Crenshaw.

Core Values for the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office

In preparation for the third term, Sheriff Crenshaw released to his employees an updated version of the “Core Values” for the agency. There are six core values with the logo that was designed, which represents the six points on the current badge that deputies from the Sheriff’s Office wear. The core values are: inclusion, integrity, honor, fairness, respect and courage.

“The circumstances and things that go on in our society and in our community kind of dictate the direction you go as a law enforcement leader,” says Sheriff Crenshaw. “Obviously, we have seen on a national level the attitudes towards law enforcement change. We have seen incidents where law enforcement, across our country, has done some things that were not right with the George Floyd incident being an example of that.”

The updated “Core Values” will be part of leadership development and the culture of the Sheriff’s Office, according to Sheriff Crenshaw. The Sheriff says that when citizens see that six point star, he wants them to think of the Sheriff’s Office. The Sheriff put one of the six “Core Values” on each point of the star.

“Part of leadership development and our culture going forward is making sure that every employee understands our core values, embraces our core values and if we do that, then we can go out here and serve our community better,” says Sheriff Crenshaw. “We can serve it fairly and equally and with inclusion for everyone regardless of color of skin, regardless of gender, and regardless of socio-economic status.”

The Hiring of the First Ever Sheriff’s Office Diversity and Equity Director

Sheriff Crenshaw made the decision to hire the first ever Diversity and Equity Director for the Sheriff’s Office. The position was one that the Sheriff says he had thought about creating for some time. Working with Oconee County Council and County Administrator Amanda Brock, those thoughts came to fruition and reality with the hiring of Dan Holland.

Since his hiring over the summer, Dan has been busy putting the pieces together of what diversity and equity will look like as it relates to the Sheriff’s Office, its employees and leadership development. Mr. Holland has done a lot of research in talking to law enforcement agencies and others around the county, according to Sheriff Crenshaw, while also looking at data from the Sheriff’s Office itself, from arrests to use of force to diversity numbers and recruitment of minorities as it relates to the hiring process. It is a process, however, that is still evolving, according to the Sheriff, but in the end he feels that it will be something that will be of a great benefit to the citizens of Oconee County.

“When you think of law enforcement, it is important to understand that law enforcement has to evolve,” according to Sheriff Crenshaw. “As our community changes, law enforcement has to change as well.

“I have embraced diversity. I can show you literature when I have campaigned that I talked about diversity,” continues Sheriff Crenshaw. “We should be reflective of the community we serve. I have always believed that. We actually have been able to increase our diversity and gender (of hires at the Sheriff’s Office) since I have been Sheriff in the last eight years.”

Even with the efforts by the Sheriff’s Office in the last eight years to increase diversity in the agency, the events of 2020 placed an even greater emphasis on, not only diversity inside the OCSO, but outside with the community and citizens of Oconee County. It helped to create conversations about race and the creation of the Diversity Director’s position.

“I began having some very candid conversations about race and that is something, with trying to build relationships, I have not done,” says Sheriff Crenshaw. “We had those candid conversations about race and I began to realize that there were some minority citizens that were fearful of the police. I began to think that we had to do more and that led me to realize that this position (Diversity Director) was needed now more than ever. I think going forward that you are going to start seeing positions like this across the board in law enforcement.”

A review of the data by Sheriff Crenshaw in regards to use of force shows that the Sheriff’s Office does not have a “police brutality problem,” according to the Sheriff. According to information the Sheriff’s Office released on social media on October 15th, deputies assigned to the Sheriff’s Office have averaged 20 uses of force per year during arrests from 2013-2019. On average agency wide, deputies had to use force only 1.9% of the time during arrests from 2013-2019. So far, during Sheriff Crenshaw’s almost eight full years as Sheriff, there have been zero uses of deadly force. However, the Sheriff says there is always room for improvement in every area, including in hiring practices for new deputies and for promotions within the department so everyone has a voice and is represented.

“Starting with our hiring practices, making sure in those interview panels that we put together, making sure that we have gender represented on those interview panels, that we have diversity represented on those interview panels and put that in policy so that everyone knows that,” says Sheriff Crenshaw. “And that is where Mr. Holland’s role comes in, in kind of a quality assurance person, holding us accountable in making sure we are doing those things day in and day out.”

Sheriff Crenshaw’s Duel Role as President of the South Carolina Sheriff’s Association

As Sheriff Crenshaw makes the transition from his second term to this third term, the Sheriff’s time has also been consumed with his duties as President of the South Carolina Sheriff’s Association. His role in communication with the other 45 Sheriff’s in South Carolina, as well as members of the South Carolina Legislature, has given him a front row seat and a voice in the shaping of potential law enforcement reform coming out of Columbia.

“We’ve certainly had some discussions. The Sheriff’s Association is made up of 46 Sheriff’s in the state of South Carolina and we have been in discussions with the Police Chief’s Association of South Carolina as well as with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Officers Association. We have put together a series of things that we feel like will improve, or enhance, the law enforcement profession and build further trust and confidence in policing and improve community partnerships,” says Sheriff Crenshaw. “The Legislature will reconvene in January and we will see where some of these things go.”

Sheriff Crenshaw says that the Sheriff’s Association is supportive of “some minimum standards” for all law enforcement agencies in South Carolina. Some of the standards that are supported by the Sheriff’s Association include:

• A Use of Force Continuum Policy, which trains law enforcement officers on how to properly handle active resistance from those encountered by law enforcement. Deputies with the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office are currently trained under this policy.
• The elimination of choke holds and neck restraints from any type of use of force.
• Policies on Duty to Intervene.
• The Elimination of No Knock Warrants.
• Standards on Hiring Practices.
• A standard policy on After Academy Training. The Oconee County Sheriff’s Office has a FTO (Field Training Officer) program that requires newly graduated deputies to ride along and be supervised for 240 hours by a supervisor before they answer calls for service on their own. According to Sheriff Crenshaw, some law enforcement agencies do not have a policy regarding After Academy Training.
• A requirement by the Legislature to fully fund the South Carolina Body Worn Camera Law.
• Funding from the Legislature for psychological testing for every police officer every two to three years during recertification. Currently, new applicants for law enforcement jobs in South Carolina are required to complete a psychological evaluation as a condition of employment. Sheriff Crenshaw says that within the last year to year and a half, over 100 applicants have not been offered jobs across the state due to the psychological testing.
• Advanced training and accreditation of agencies, which may involve some incentives on the state level and a continued focus on salaries for officers.

“I think it is complementary of law enforcement to look to our own profession and we are all in agreement that these are things that can improve the law enforcement profession in our state and across our nation,” according to Sheriff Crenshaw. “I think it is needed. Unfortunately, sometimes law enforcement gets stereotyped. There can be something bad to happen on the other side of our country and some tend to think ‘is law enforcement here like that?’ I think it is important to have some standards on the state level so that everybody in South Carolina is training the same way and doing the same things when it comes to these standards. On the national level, I think we will see some of these same things as well.”

Taking an Oath for the Third Term

During the last few weeks of December, deputies took an oath that is required before each new term begins. Sheriff Crenshaw has also taken that oath before his third term officially began. For Sheriff Crenshaw, it is the beginning of something new. “We cannot rest on our past successes. We stand ready to serve our citizens with compassion and professionalism.”