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Former Aiken deputy in the spotlight on ‘Live PD’

Posted: May 10, 2017 - 1:05am
Deputy Kevin Lawrence laughs with Live PD hosts Dan Abrams (left) and Tom Morris Jr.
Deputy Kevin Lawrence laughs with Live PD hosts Dan Abrams (left) and Tom Morris Jr.

It's a busy Friday night in Columbia when Deputy Kevin Lawrence makes a routine traffic stop.

Walking up to the driver's window, he smells marijuana.

The driver, a young African-American man, says there's nothing illegal in the car.

Lawrence doesn't buy it. He knows the driver is "riding dirty" and keeps talking to him in an even, polite tone.

Admit to it, turn over the pot and you'll just get a ticket, Lawrence says again and again. Don't and you'll go to jail, he warns.

After several more denials, the young man finally gives in, and Lawrence, who could lock him up, cuts him a break. Finding no other violations, he confiscates the marijuana, writes the ticket and sends the grateful young man on his way with a warning and a little education.

It's the kind of interaction he's known for, and why his fellow deputies call him Cool Kev. His even-keeled but no-nonsense personality has also made him "fan fave" of viewers of the live-action cop show Live PD on A&E.

"It's just empathy - I put myself in other people's shoes," said Lawrence, who grew up in Aiken from the age of 8 and got his start with the Aiken County Sheriff's Office. "You'll remember the cops and how they treated you. It's our jobs to respect everybody."

Lawrence, 33, is no pushover, but he is a member of the Richland County Sheriff's Department's Community Action Team, whose officers try, as much as possible, to put a human face on policing. They get to know their areas, attending community meetings and interacting with community leaders, civic and religious groups and other neighborhood organizations.

Lawrence is a natural at community policing and has a great "roadside manner," said Shelly Tatro, executive producer of Live PD, which started in October as a two-hour live show on Friday nights and has become a hit, expanding to three hours on Fridays and Saturdays.

Lawrence said he was told last weekend's episodes pulled in 2 million viewers - the show's best numbers ever. It's the highest-rated show on A&E, Tatro said.

The show follows police in six cities rapidly switching to where the action is, much like NFL Red Zone jumps to wherever it looks like a team is about to score.

Live PD's hardcore fans, most of whom "ride along" through Twitter, want A&E to make it 24/7, Tatro said.

Officers like Lawrence have played a big part in Live PD's success, she said. The really popular ones, like Lawrence, appear not only on the job, but also take turns in the studio with hosts Dan Abrams and Tom Morris Jr., commenting on the action.

In that role last weekend, Lawrence talked about his Aiken County roots and answered a Twitter question about what kind of music he listens to.

"Well, some people have called me Mr. Chill, and that's the kind of music I like - old school R&B," like Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Anthony Hamilton, Jaheim, Mint Condition and Al Green.

Abrams and Morris complimented him for not being nervous on national TV and another fan tweeted in to ask what would "fire up" someone who's "cool as a cucumber."

"Women and children, people who can't defend themselves, the elderly. (Crimes against them) always gets my blood boiling," Lawrence says. "I try to remain calm because, of course I'm the peacemaker, and I have to remain calm because I don't want to escalate a situation, but women and children are my sore spot."

Lawrence's reputation has earned him other nicknames, including Mr. Cool, Mr. Calm and Collected and - to the fans on Twitter - KLaw.

He was just Kevin back in the early 2000s, when he was in Aiken County's reserve deputy program while still a student at Charleston Southern University and going for ride-alongs with Capt. Eric Abdullah, now the agency's public information officer.

"He was eager, very eager about law enforcement and wanting to be part of it," Abdullah said last week. "I talked to him the other day ... about when he rode along and how he was able to learn some things."

Last weekend, a Live PD viewer asked Lawrence to remember his first call as a deputy and whether he was nervous.

He was, he said, because he had to arrest a trespasser who was a pretty big guy. Lawrence at the time was 6-foot-2 and about 140 pounds, he said, and wasn't sure he had the necessary heft.

After Aiken County, Lawrence worked for the New Ellenton Police Department and was a sergeant when he left to join the Richland County Sheriff's Department in 2007.

He was promoted to Richland's Community Action Team in 2009 and was Deputy of the Year for the Community Services Division in 2010.

He knew early on that he wanted to be a lawman, following in the footsteps of his father, who was on the force in Washington, D.C. before moving to Aiken County and running unsuccessfully for sheriff.

Lawrence went to Aiken County elementary and middle schools before graduating from Silver Bluff High School.

Watching Lawrence on TV, it's easy to see the affinity he has for his job and how well he handles people, even when he has to take them to jail.

Last weekend, commenting on an incident in Greenville where a woman darted away from two or three officers, host Tom Morris Jr. said, "I didn't see that foot chase coming."

"I did," Lawrence said. "Us South Carolinians have an eye for that kind of stuff."

 

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