In Remembrance: Al St Lawrence
Longtime law enforcement leader, Al St Lawrence, passed away on November 24 after a long battle with cancer. He was laid to rest on Wednesday, December 2, as friends and family said their final goodbyes and reflected on the impact of the Chatham County Sheriff. Below is a conversation we had with Sheriff Lawrence in the fall of 2013.
Sheriff Al St. Lawrence
Sheriff Al St. Lawrence began his career in law enforcement as a Chatham County Police Patrolman in 1959. 54 years later, on the eve of his retirement, the good Sheriff reflects on his storied career and the journey of his lifetime.
When did you become interested in law enforcement? Was it a childhood dream?
It wasn’t a childhood dream. I was in the US Air Force and when I got out I stayed in the area. I applied to the CCPD [Chatham County Police Department] and got hired.
You’re a New Hampshire native. Why did you decide to live and work in Savannah?
I was transferred to Savannah HAAF [Hunter Army Air Field] in July 1952 at age 18. I fell in love with the place and decided to stay.
Why did you decide to run for Sheriff in 1992?
After being Chief for the CCPD for 21 years, I decided I wanted to run for an elected office. It was a personal goal. So I ran for Sheriff. I was elected June 5th after a run off with Gene Mahany.
What has been the key to all your subsequent successful elections?
A good work ethic. If you really want something you work for it. This is my sixth and last term. I have no regrets.
What are the biggest challenges you face as Sheriff?
There have been so many challenges. Moving the department into the 21st century has been a big challenge, but I’ve accomplished that.
What is it about your personality that has kept you loyal to this community and the department for over 50 years?
I enjoy my work, I enjoy the challenges, I enjoy trying to ensure the Sheriff’s office is well equipped. And I love Savannah. I wouldn’t live anywhere else.
What was your most challenging day in law enforcement?
Too numerous to count, however I can say whenever a deputy is killed or injured on my watch it hurts. We have [had] several people killed in my tenure. In 1962, my partner was killed. I should have been with him but I was in court. Those are very dark days.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Coming to work and helping people. Not just with the office but personally too.
What do you enjoy the least?
That’s an easy question—terminating people! But we have rules and regulations. If you break the rules you have to pay the price.
What are some of your most memorable cases?
Again, too numerous to mention. They were all important, especially to the people involved.
What are some of the toughest issues facing law enforcement officers in Chatham County?
There are many issues. We are really no different than any other sheriff’s office, Oklahoma City or New York City we all face similar issues. Officer safety is one of the biggest issues. You can get all the training in the classroom you want but you still have to be able to apply it. So teaching officer safety and making sure its retained is a constant challenge.
How does Chatham County differ from other counties and states in terms of crime? Do we have more organized crime? Less? Are the issues the same?
Typically the federal authorities deal with organized crime, that’s not necessarily a problem in this area. However we do have our fair share of criminals. The jail has been operating over capacity since 1998.
Now after a few years in practice, do you see the merging of SCMPD and Chatham County as a success?
There are many aspects of the merger that still cause me concern.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I’m a people person. I care about my employees, I don’t micro-manage.
Have you ever had issues with your officers in terms of corruption or scandal? If not, how have you prevented that?
We have had our share of problems, but if an employee in involved in those types of things we deal with the situation as it comes.
How do you think your colleagues would describe you?
I would hope they would say I’m cooperative and helpful. There is not one law enforcement agency in the area that can say I haven’t chipped in and helped when asked.
You have received numerous awards for your contributions to law enforcement at both the county and state levels. Which mean the most you?
I’m not in the business to set records. If I had to think of one that was really important it was probably when I was recognized for my contributions by the House of Representatives for being the only law enforcement officer in the state of Georgia for receiving Sheriff of the Year and Chief of the Year.
What has been your proudest moment?
It would have to be when my employees, family and friends put together a 50-year anniversary celebration. Over my time here I have had a lot of proud moments. I’m proud of my employees and my family.