Captain Wendall Harris’s, of the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, story is one of true resilience.
“I grew up in a really troubled area,” Captain Harris shared. “I saw drug dealers taking over the area. That is what real life is like for a lot of people today. Gang bangers control a lot of communities. There are elderly people who are scared to sit on their porch and children who can’t play on the playgrounds because it is drug infested. People are being held hostage in their own neighborhoods.”
This personal experience drove Captain Harris into law enforcement. “I wanted to go back to my neighborhood to be able to give back to those who don’t have a voice. I wanted to become a servant and give back.”
And this is exactly what he did. After joining the military after high school, Captain Harris then joined the police force. He has been with the Richland County SHeriff’s Department for 28 years. During that time, he has worn many hats, but the one that got him nominated for the Officer Gregory Alia Award was his work with youth.
Captain Harris was instrumental in starting the Youth Services Division at RCSD. Over the past seven years, the program has served over 18,000 families. His colleague shares that the program has seen “unparalleled” success. “Under his leadership, the recidivism rate in Richland County has been reduced… there are hundreds of teens leading better lives today because of him.”
This work isn’t easy. Growing up in a tough neighborhood provides Captain Harris with a valuable perspective on bringing together police and community. “It is so hard to go into these communities and build relationships and have them not see you as the enemy. You may talk to them but then you have to lock up their cousin and so you are the enemy. It is a tough job and law enforcement has to bridge those relationships.”
To Captain Harris, respect is paramount for overcoming these challenges. “Number one thing is how you treat people. Even if they are going away for 30 years, they deserve respect. You give respect even when they don’t receive it. But they will remember it. I will have people who will come up and shake my hand 20 years later and why? Because everybody wants dignity on the way out.” He continued on, “Do you know how many times I have been saved because of how I have treated people? It’s constantly treating people with respect. It’s helping that elderly woman. It’s asking that mom if you can help give her a ride down the corner. It’s asking kids about how their day was.”
We are humbled by his service and dedication to bridging the divide between police and the communities they serve. Please join us in congratulating Captain Harris on a well-deserved spot as a finalist for the Officer Gregory Alia Award!
About the Officer Gregory Alia Award
Serve & Connect was founded by Kassy Alia in memory of her husband, Greg Alia, who was killed in the line of duty on September 30th, 2015. This prestigious annual award is named in his honor and recognizes an outstanding officer who demonstrates a commitment to serve his/her community with respect and compassion; one who goes above the call of duty to ensure that members of the community are protected, cared for, and feel valued; one who treats all members of the community as equal and who employed their role with thoughtfulness and tact; and who through everyday interactions builds a safer community for all. The award is presented at our annual event, the Knight of Honor Gala, which will be held on September 28, 2018 in Columbia, SC.