COLUMBIA -- With Reggie Lloyd at the helm, the State Law Enforcement Division would take a more proactive approach to identifying the needs of police around the state.
On Thursday, the current U.S. attorney for South Carolina cleared the first hurdle toward becoming the next SLED chief.
The five members of an S.C. Senate Judiciary subcommittee unanimously backed Gov. Mark Sanford's nomination of Lloyd, 40, as the state's top cop, moving it on the full Judiciary Committee.
The full Senate could remove the "nominee" from the end of Lloyd's "SLED chief" designation as early as Wednesday.
If confirmed, Lloyd would become only the third SLED chief in the past 50 years and the agency's first black chief. He would succeed Robert Stewart, who retired last year.
Lloyd, a Winthrop University graduate and former state circuit judge, said he still sees SLED primarily as an agency that assists local law enforcement, but he wants to shift SLED from waiting to be asked to offering to help areas struggling with serious crime issues.
"A lot of these areas, rural areas have serious gang problems," Lloyd told senators Thursday. "We need to be looking forward and trying to help them combat the problem long before they become problems."
That would be a major change in SLED's role in law enforcement in the state, said Jeff Moore, executive director of the S.C. Sheriffs' Association.
"For SLED to be looking at crime trends and to be looking at certain geographic areas in terms of crime," Moore said, "that is a departure from what they have done as far as I'm aware."
Law enforcement agencies welcomed similar assistance from the Department of Public Safety in the past, Moore said, and, "I would assume it would be welcomed again, depending on how it's done."
SLED officials would have to be very careful not to over-extend the agency to the point that it couldn't provide the critical assistance it already does to the state's smaller law enforcement agencies 75 percent of which employ 20 or fewer people, Moore said.
"They absolutely rely on SLED," he said, for technological, crime scene and lab assistance.
Lloyd didn't say anything at Thursday's hearing to suggest that SLED wouldn't continue to assist small agencies, Moore noted.
Sen. Jake Knotts, R-Lexington, asked Lloyd to address concerns about his ability to lead the agency despite not having law enforcement experience -- a blank spot on his resume that was highlighted by several sheriffs when his nomination was announced last month.
Lloyd pointed out the FBI, DEA and ATF have all been led by people without law enforcement training.
"At the end of the day," Lloyd said, "you're going to care about those people and the mission that they serve and the needs they have and the community they serve ... or not."
Lloyd said he expected to earn the respect of the law enforcement community with his steadfast support of their mission.
Knotts, a frequent critic of Sanford, was full-throated in his support of Lloyd's nomination.
"Today is a great day for South Carolina," said Knotts, a former police officer. "We've had the opportunity to hear from the heart of Reggie Lloyd.
"I can say you are a uniter, not a divider."
In response to a question from Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, Lloyd told the panel that he would maintain his independence even if it meant disagreeing with Sanford.
McConnell referred to a dispute last year between Sanford and Stewart over more than $5 million in upgrades to security SLED had recommended and the governor had criticized at the Statehouse.
"Public safety is my primary focus," Lloyd said. "No one will get me to take a position that isn't proper."
Lloyd has formed a transition committee composed of past and current SLED employees and law enforcement officers from around the state. Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott chairs the committee.
"This a chance to continue my commitment to public safety and law enforcement issues in this state," Lloyd said. "That is something I am deeply committed to."