South Carolina Sheriff Buys 17 New Ford GT Mustangs

July 8, 2024
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott says he’s using “hot cars” to help build and strengthen relationships between the community and his deputies.

COLUMBIA, South Carolina -- Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott says he’s using “hot cars” to help build and strengthen relationships between the community and his deputies.

On Monday, Lott unveiled 17 new Ford GT Mustangs that Community Action Team, or CAT, deputies will use to patrol neighborhoods. The specialized team of deputies will primarily use the high performance sport cars to help spark organic conversations between community members and deputies, aiming ultimately to build long-lasting relationships, Lott said.

“These cars draw attention,” Lott said. “These are hot cars. Kids and adults see them and like them, and then come up to the car and start talking to the deputy. That’s done on purpose to attract people to the vehicle, the deputy, (where we tell them) who we are and what we do.”

Lott, who was first elected Richland County sheriff in 1996, said he created the CAT unit in 1998 to facilitate an ongoing community group, as opposed to other crime watch groups that only show up after a crime has happened.

“That’s what the CAT team does, it keeps that community energized all the time, making sure (community) meetings are going on, even when nothing has happened,” Lott said. “The goal is to prevent crime in the first place. So, we wanted to make them a little unique, which is why we have specialized cars for them.”

Lott is seeking reelection again this year in the face of Republican challenger Jim Walker, a former sergeant with the Richland County Sheriff’s Department who retired in 2015.

The sheriff’s department currently has 15 CAT deputies who, Lott said, are each assigned to a neighborhood, where they regularly attend community meetings and hand out their phone numbers to build a personal connection with residents.

CAT deputies are used for more than just combating crime, Lott said. For example, if a street light is out in a neighborhood, residents can freely call a CAT deputy for assistance.

The unit first started sporting Chevy Camaros in 1998 before Chevy discontinued the model. From there they went to Dodge Magnums to Dodge Challengers, back to Camaros — when Chevy began remaking the model — and now Ford Mustangs after Chevy discontinued the Camaro again.

The vehicles, complete with Richland County Sheriff’s Department markings without a light bar on top of the car, features factory rims and Ford emblems, including “GT” on the rear of the car and “5.0” on the side fenders.

“Everybody loves a fancy sports car,” Lott said. “We’re not picking a car just because it’s a cool car to drive, but cool cars attract people to come and build a relationship with us.”

As for the cost of the new vehicles, Lott said his department paid no more than they would have for standard patrol vehicles, such as the Ford Explorer or Chevy Tahoe.

©2024 The State. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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