The history of the South Carolina Fraternal Order of Police is similar to most other states when law enforcement officers decided to form. Officers were concerned about low wages, poor working conditions, long hours, and no type of protection from job actions. The first lodge to form in South Carolina that has stayed active was the Lexington County Lodge #2 which was made of entirely of deputies with the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department. These officers started searching for a national organization to join to help assist them in their endeavors. It was decided that the FOP was the only organization that truly consisted of police officers who represented police officers. They contacted the North Carolina State Lodge of the FOP, and these FOP members came in to tell them about the FOP. Out of the 78 Lexington deputies, 75 became charter members in 1976.
These officers set about trying to gather strength thru numbers and community support. They started raising funds for activities and attorney fees if needed. Their plight became public and support started coming in immediately. About the same time that Lodge #2 was being formed, officers with the Charleston County Police Department began searching for a national organization to join. They contacted the Georgia State Lodge of the FOP for assistance. It was discovered that Lexington had just formed a lodge and the officers from Charleston County Police Department chartered the Charleston County Lodge #3. These officers from both lodges began to share information with each other.
In early 1977, officers from Anderson, Oconee, and Pickens counties got together and formed the 3rd lodge called Tri-County Lodge #4. The reason that no lodge used the #1 number was that about six months before the officers from Lexington County Lodge #2 forming, there was a lodge in Lancaster County, and they were Lodge #1. They quickly disbanded when their Sheriff threatened to fire any FOP member. This number went unclaimed until about 1995 when Lexington County Lodge #2 became Midlands Lodge #1.
In April of 1977, these three lodges took a bold step and decided to form a state lodge. The location of this first meeting was in West Columbia, South Carolina at the Ramada Inn. National President Pat Stark came in to charter the new state lodge and to preside over the meeting to elect state officers. The leadership from the three lodges met and elected the following officers: State President- Guy Osborne, Vice President Jim Cleveland, Secretary William Graham, and Treasurer Gilbert Smith. James Longo was elected as the first National Trustee. These officers were sworn in at the first State Conference banquet. Within the first year, Guy Osborne left law enforcement and stepped down as president. Because the vice president was not prepared to take on the job of state president, Gilbert Smith was sworn in as the new State President. Gilbert Smith was confined to a wheelchair because of a line of duty disability as a result of being shot by a suspect. He was very visible and became very well known on the national scene.
The first National Conference attended by South Carolina delegates was the 1977 conference in Rhode Island. Gilbert Smith, Otis Johnson, and James Longo attended this event. The national membership in the FOP was around 70,000 officers at this time. Lodges started forming in South Carolina, and the FOP was on the rise. In 1981, James Longo resigned as National Trustee just before the National Conference in Orlando, Florida. At this conference, Jerry Wright, the state secretary, was elected as the new National Trustee. He served in this capacity until 2001 when he chose not to run for reelection. At that time he had served for 20 years and was the second-ranking Trustee on the National Board.
Many Lodges formed over the years and some dropped out such as Sea Island, Sumter County, Lancaster County, etc. Other lodges went thru changes such as re-chartering as Tri-County breaking up and becoming Anderson, Pickens, and Oconee Lodges, Charleston County becoming the new Tri-County Lodge, Lexington County becoming Midlands Lodge, etc. Many people came and went as lodge members and leaders during this period. This was because of the people changing jobs and assuming other duties within their departments.
The state lodge began to gather respect and attention when it chose to sue the State Revenue Department because they began to disregard a law that allowed for a deduction on the state taxes in regards to law enforcement officers benefits by way of a tax deduction. The South Carolina Attorney General’s Office represented the state in this case. The FOP took them to court and won! The next challenge came when we began to look at other state retirement plans and found that we were only one of a handful of 30-year plans. We funded an actuary study and found that a 25-year plan was feasible. We started the process by having a bill introduced to change this law. Other law enforcement groups joined us, and we had our 25 year retirement bill passed the first year. Recently, we had the law changed so that we are the only law enforcement association with our own vehicle license tag. We had a law passed to place a memorial on our state house grounds to honor those law enforcement officers who lost their lives in the line of duty. In 2004, we were able to get a bill passed that had the state fund this memorial in the amount of $500,000. Also, we worked to get a better retirement benefit for our profession that was passed into law. We continue to be involved in improved legislation for our members.
The South Carolina FOP will never be the biggest state lodge because of its limited size and population, but we will always be aggressive in our protection of our members and our desire for better benefits for our brothers and sisters.
In 2002, National Vice President Chuck Canterbury was sworn in as National President due to the death of Steve Young. In 2003, Chuck Canterbury was elected as National President and continues to serve in that position.