By Barney Blakeney
Over 100 Black law enforcement officers from across the state July 9-13 attended the 57th Annual Palmetto State Law Enforcement Officers Association (PSLEOA) conference in North Charleston. The week-long education and training conference was highlighted by Wednesday’s annual President’s Barbeque and Thursday’s Award Banquet and Annual Ball featuring North Charleston Police Chief Reggie Burgess as keynote speaker.
PSLEOA President Lt. Mark Hamilton of the Berkeley County Sheriff Office said the conference was well attended with an average of 100 participants for each of its five days. Some 140 youths participated in Tuesday’s Youth Day activities at North Charleston Wannamaker County Park. The association’s focus on youth is a big part of its mission, Hamilton said.
As law enforcement across the nation experiences unparalleled criticism, Black law enforcement officers especially, find themselves at the epicenter of various controversies, Hamilton said. The state’s 12 chapters work to gain trust in their respective communities, but they are challenged to convince young people that law enforcement offers professional opportunities as well as opportunities to make a difference.
As in most professions, the influence of racism exists, he said. But that can be countered with training and better communication between officers and the people they serve. There is a need for diversity, Hamilton said, and that process starts with the young through programs such as their explorers program.
Those were among the conversations PSLEOA members were having as they networked last week. Networking to see what other chapters and agencies are doing and stressing the need to more personally engage the public were among the most important parts of the week’s conference in addition to training sessions about ‘Success in the Courtroom’, ‘Domestic Violence’, ‘Officer Survival’, and ‘Law Enforcement & Mental Health’.
Hamilton, in the first year of a two-year tenure as president, said the organization will move forward to next year’s conference again in Charleston working to educate the community and state legislators about the need for positive changes in law enforcement. It’s time for change and the Palmetto State Law Enforcement Officers Association will be a unified block advocating for that change, he said.