Surreal. That is the only way I know how to describe this moment standing before you all. I see men who I have admired my entire career in law enforcement. I see our Governor, under whom I am honored to serve. I see friends and colleagues who have walked this path alongside me, learning together along the way. Surreal because it seems that just yesterday it was 1999, and I was a rookie patrol officer with a new Camaro and a full head of hair. I was young. I was fearless and completely oblivious to what lay ahead.
Yet, here we are almost 25 years later, and now I stand before you with a heart full of gratitude. I am honored and privileged to accept this nomination as your new president.
And, in that capacity, I stand committed to honoring the legacy of those who have gone before me, as well as recognizing those who have served under my command. I stand committed to furthering the mission of this great association, now celebrating 110 years of service. From Allendale to Greenville, we are committed to ensuring that every sheriff receives the same level of representation and support from the South Carolina Sheriffs' Association.
Like most teenagers, I remember in high school asking, "Why do we have to learn about history, it's already happened?" The standard teacher response was "So that we do not repeat it". As I have grown older, I would expand that response to include, "If we do not know who we are or where we come from, how do we know where to go or who to be?"
Since becoming Sheriff, I have enjoyed learning about the history of my office. I have learned that ordinary men, (including grocers and meat cutters), served as sheriff before me. I learned of Marion County Sheriff Archie Carmichael, who in 1842, sacrificed his own freedom and that of his family because he refused to enforce tax collections on an already impoverished community. The sheriff and his family remained in jail for 22 months until the debts were all forgiven. For his courage and compassion, Sheriff Carmichael was called a "martyr to his kindness". I also learned of a young Marion County sheriff who was killed in an automobile accident while responding to a call, leaving behind a widow and 5 children in 1935. In unprecedented fashion, then Governor Olin Johnston appointed Sheriff Clark Gasque's widow to complete his term as sheriff, making her South Carolina's first female sheriff. When I look back at these remarkable men and women I am humbled to follow in their footsteps. Their courage and commitment not only serve as the foundation for "who we are and where we come from" as an organization but provide inspiration for future sheriffs when at that pivotal moment in their lives they ask "Where will I go and what will I be?"
However, it is not only the examples set by sheriffs past who inspire me to be a better sheriff. As many of you know, since becoming sheriff, I have lost two deputies in the line of duty. For those of you who have not had this experience, I pray you never do. It will not only change you, but it will also change your department. It has profoundly changed me as a man and as a sheriff. Not a day goes by that I do not feel a tremendous sense of debt to Mike and David. They pledged an oath not only to our state and to our county, but as Sheriff, to me personally. Because of their legacy, I must continue to fight. Many of my deputies continue to honor their memories and their sacrifice by wearing memorial bracelets or bands on their pistol grips. I wear mine on my heart, and there they will forever remain. With every heartbeat, I remember their professionalism, commitment, and most of all, their courage. Leading such men is the unparalleled honor of my professional career.
Honoring the sacrifice of Line of Duty deaths is an area where your association, my association, OUR association, and the South Carolina Sheriffs' Association has stepped up to take care of families left behind. David Price left behind a wife and three small children under the age of 5. With only a $25 honorary SCSA membership, after having placed such a costly sacrifice on the altar of public safety, the surviving family of a Line of Duty death would receive a benefit equal to the fallen deputy's full-year salary. It is my hope that every Sheriff will be able to provide a membership for everyone under their watch
And so we, the 46 +1, honor the ones who have gone before us in the only way that matters within the law enforcement brotherhood...we carry on, we press on and we fight on! Through constant policy updates and court decisions that seem to place a low priority on deputy safety, we carry on. Through lawsuits, low employee retention, and even lower applicant pools, we press on. And when citizens across our great State dial "911" on a daily basis pleading for someone to respond and save them, we fight on!
Another area of focus for our association this year is advocating for more mental health funding. A fact to which we can all attest is that there are many beds in our jail facilities that are filled with mental health patients needing treatment, not incarceration. As your President, I will encourage our association to coordinate with our counterparts in the mental health field to advocate for funding to address this crisis. Mental health is also a large concern among our own ranks. As president of the association, I will work tirelessly to advocate for a more consistent approach regarding mental health counseling and therapy services for our staff, and remove once and for all the stigma associated with seeking help. We ask our men and women to bear witness to the very worst of human behavior on a daily basis and expect them to be fine. We forget that those who wear our badges and enforce our laws are human beings, not robots. We are losing good deputies because we are not offering the help and support they so desperately need.
Why should our organization combat these daunting challenges? Because this is what we as sheriffs are called to do. This is what our association is called to do. For 110 years, this association of sheriffs has promoted public and community safety through the legislative process, training, and networking. I would like to take this opportunity to applaud the association's work in pushing H.3532 onto Governor McMaster's desk for signature. We must keep up the fight against violent crime and recidivism. My department is still dealing with the same lifetime criminals that I dealt with as a rookie. In dealing with these and other issues, as your president, I vow to carry on. I vow to press on. I vow to fight on!
I pray that we, the 46+1 can unite under the banner of public safety and accomplish great things for the law enforcement community from the upstate to the low country, and everywhere in between.
In closing, I leave you with this,
1 Kings 8:57-58 New International Version
57 May the Lord our God be with us as he was with our ancestors; may he never leave us nor forsake us. 58 May he turn our hearts to him, to walk in obedience to him and keep the commands, decrees, and laws he gave our ancestors.
May God bless you all and may He continue to bless this great state of South Carolina.
Sheriff Brian Wallace
Marion County Sheriff's Office
SC Sheriffs' Association 2023-2024 President