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On his way out the door, SLED chief takes parting shots

Reggie Lloyd will be stepping down Friday as the state's top cop, and he's sure not going quietly.

In a wide-ranging interview this week, the State Law Enforcement Division director vented his frustrations with everything from the state's new immigration law to perceived meddling by the governor's office and an unwillingness among police leaders to tackle serious threats facing South Carolina.

Lloyd, a Winthrop University graduate who is leaving to start a private law practice, displayed the same bluntness and brass that has earned him both admiration and enmity in law enforcement circles. Among other things, he revealed that he:

Hopes to build legal cases to fight the state's new law targeting illegal immigrants, saying he considers the measure a waste of time and a distraction from law enforcement's real priorities.

Ignored Gov. Nikki Haley's request to halt making promotions at SLED during his final weeks and handed out $700,000 in raises. He also rebuffed a push by Haley's husband to hire outside people to staff the governor's security detail, a move Lloyd deemed unnecessary and inappropriate.

Thinks the state has too many local police departments in small towns that can't afford to maintain or train their forces.

Worries South Carolina is behind the curve on gangs, white collar crime and other perils while SLED is inundated with worthless, petty cases submitted by local police agencies.

Lloyd, who is leaving seven months shy of his term expiring, has been blasted by critics who have accused him of steering SLED away from its traditional mission of assisting law enforcement. Critics have called him an arrogant, out-of-touch and inexperienced director who tried to transform SLED into a mini-FBI that sets its own agenda.

"That's just a lot of rhetoric," Lloyd said. "Most of that 'gotten away from their mission' stuff means we are no are no longer doing their garbage cases."

Taking out the 'garbage'

Lloyd, 44, said SLED is still assisting local agencies with murder investigations, corruption cases, SWAT team call-outs and a host of other activities. SLED has simply started saying "No" to nuisance cases that the locals should be perfectly capable of handling on their own but won't because they are unwilling or worried about ruffling feathers, he said.

He cited a recent request by an Upstate sheriff's office for SLED agents to investigate the theft of $64 from a purse in the local magistrate's office.

The sheriff's office claimed it had a conflict of interest because its deputies provided security for the office, Lloyd said.

"That's baloney. They can investigate that," he said. "It would be cheaper for me to just pay the money out of my own pocket than to send an agent out there."

Lloyd cited another instance in which a Pee Dee department requested SLED's crime scene team to dust for fingerprints on some bubble gum machines that had been broken into.

Still another sheriff's office wanted SLED agents to probe whether a deputy from another county had been present when a minor drank alcohol at a party.

"There is no reason at the state level for taxpayers to spend money doing that kind of case," he said.

Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner, president of the state's sheriff's association, said that kind of attitude has alienated Lloyd from law enforcement officials across the state, particularly in rural areas that lack manpower and resources.

"Reggie is not a bad person, but I think he has forgotten that the things he calls garbage cases can be extremely important to a police chief or sheriff in small town South Carolina," he said. "If you give a sheriff or a chief the impression you don't care or have time for his problems, that is going to create animosity."

Tanner said he fully expects Lloyd's successor, Department of Public Safety Chief Mark Keel, will get SLED back on track and refocus its mission.

Lloyd said the focus should remain on real threats, such as criminal gangs that took to root in South Carolina while the state wasn't paying attention. Gang members now total in the thousands, and are involved in everything from drug-running to identity theft.

South Carolina consistently ranks among the top states, per capita, for violence. And white collar crimes, such as mortgage fraud, are posting alarming gains as well, he said.

With limited resources, Lloyd said, he would rather spend his days helping people like a Columbia woman who told him she was too terrified to let her child play outside due to frequent shootings.

"Do you really want to tell people they have to put up with that because you want someone to investigate missing money from someone's purse in a magistrate's office?"

Parting moves

Lloyd, who has earned $145,000 annually since taking over in 2008, said the state lacks a cohesive strategy for tackling these public safety threats. He also acknowledged that as SLED director he bore a large responsibility for leading the way.

But Lloyd said too often he encountered local law enforcement leaders who weren't interested in working together or were more focused on easy solutions and press conferences than on tackling the long-term investigations needed to root out gangs and drug organizations. Some turf-conscious sheriffs actively resisted SLED even working in their counties, he said. He wouldn't name names.

Beaufort's Tanner said such claims are off-base. He said he couldn't recall Lloyd reaching out to anyone to work large gang or drug cases. Lloyd has opposed the immigration law that gives police more power to check for illegal immigrants. Illegal immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries have been tied to both gang activity and narcotics trafficking in the state, Tanner said.

Lloyd doesn't buy it. He said blacks and whites continue to make up the lion's share of the state's gang members. If anything, the state's Hispanic community should be credited with creating an unwelcome environment for Latino gangs in South Carolina, he said. The state is turning on those folks and wasting law enforcement time chasing after people mowing lawns and nailing shingles on roofs, he said.

Lloyd, a former judge and U.S. attorney, said he hopes to challenge the new immigration law when he opens his legal practice in the coming weeks.

Lloyd has never been afraid of challenging the power structure. When the governor wrote him on May 25 instructing him to hold off on promotions, hires and raises during the transition to his successor, Lloyd went ahead anyway with five promotions and a $700,000 pay increase.

Lloyd said SLED's forensic lab and behavioral science unit desperately needed supervisors and the vetting process had been under way for months.

While he sat in on interviews and signed off on promotions, the candidates were picked by staff with the technical expertise needed to determine the best qualifications, he said.

Rob Godfrey, Haley's press secretary, wasn't impressed. "It is not good for the state when an outgoing agency head pushes through $700,000 in pay increases during his last two weeks and leaves his successor to deal with the repercussions."

Lloyd said the step and merit increases in pay had been promised to staff before he ever came on board, but the state's budget crisis prevented SLED from honoring those commitments for three years. Through budget savings and cost-cutting measures, SLED was able to build up a reserve and make good on those raises, which roughly averaged 10 percent. That pay is sustainable over time, and Keel will arrive with as much as a $10 million surplus on hand, he said.

"Tell Rob Godfrey and the governor's office that if they need some money, we would be happy to float them a loan," he said.

Lloyd said it was ironic that Haley had taken him to task over the moves after her husband, Michael, pushed him to hire five to seven people for the governor's security detail before and after last fall's election. He said the request was eventually whittled down to one individual, but he still refused, explaining to Haley's representatives that the governor could likely find someone suitable among the 240 agents already on SLED's payroll.

Lloyd wouldn't say who exactly she wanted to hire. Godfrey wouldn't reveal names either, but he maintained there was nothing inappropriate about the move. "It should come as no surprise that Mr. Haley took a keen interest in the people responsible for protecting his wife and children," he said. "He asked Director Lloyd to consider a single individual, who had served on two previous executive protection details, to head up security for his family. Director Lloyd said no, and they all moved on."

Lloyd said he is definitely ready to move on, but he hopes the state will get beyond its petty squabbles and turf battles and start looking at the big picture.

"We tend to come slowly to a lot of things that the rest of the country has already figured out," he said. "And that's how I see public safety in South Carolina."