GOOD BLUE Chief Larry Hill was well groomed, had a strong hand and the inviting demeanor of a favorite uncle. He was in full Shelby County Sheriff's Department gear – his money-green pants clashing with the blue collar badge shirt. To citizens, these colors have always meant that someone has arrived to handle some business.
I noticed that Chief Hill had enough stars and stripes on his uniform to create a flag. Yes, Larry Hill has been on the job and doing it well. He's not a Dallas Cowboys fan, so how else would he have collected so many stars?
Kelvin Cowans: Chief Hill, I see someone left all of this Pittsburgh Steeler stuff lying around your office, and you don't have to put up with that. People ought to treat you better than that, sir.
Chief Larry Hill: (Laughs) No man, that's my team. I've been a Steelers fan for as long as I can remember.
KC: You don't have to be a Steelers fan to know how they play – hard hitting and straight forward. You mentioned that you became an Elder at your church and that's pretty straight forward as well.
Chief Hill: Yes, I attend World Overcomers Church pastored by A. R. Williams. I was promoted to Eldership back in late 2010. I'm responsible for teaching and mentoring but my work is mostly in the community. I help with the Big Brother Big Sister program and exercise my gifts in those areas. I also work with Delta Sigma Theta in their program titled Embodi, and we take the youth head-on and pour into them all that we have. We try to instill in them a progressive mind set at a young age so that they can be ready for what life has for them. We don't want to see them going down the wrong path and ending up on the wrong side of the law.
KC: How long have you been in Law Enforcement?
Chief Hill: I've been in law enforcement for 25 years. I started out in the Undercover Narcotics division and worked myself up to Patrol, then Fugitive, then Swat Team, and on to Community Policing. I was one of the original members of that group. I was a training instructor. I've pretty much done it all.
KC: Indeed! What moved you into this profession?
Chief Hill: College, the different classes I took pushed me in this direction. I got my bachelor's and majored in Criminal Justice at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo. St. Louis, Mo. was where I grew up before we moved to Memphis, and we lived in South Memphis. So as a child, we didn't have much. I'm talking St. Louis and South Memphis. That was how I grew up – in the ghetto.
We also lived in Whitehaven for a time, but my focus is really on the ghettos we lived in. And truthfully, in the 1970's, St. Louis was 15 times worse than Memphis – drugs, drive-bys, etc. It was horrible, and for me I feel it my duty to give back to those same kids who I can relate to. I feel like I was blessed to make it out. They need a role model, and I try to be the best one I can be. I don't want to see children grow up in an environment where there is no hope. These kids need our time.
KC: What is a common misconception you get from youth about police officers?
Chief Hill: The common misconception is that police officers are bad, and it is viral. Still, this is the area of which I get an opportunity to show them different. We build a relationship from there, and it's what we call "Locker Room." We let them say whatever they want to say without being penalized, and that allows a platform for complete honesty on both of our sides.
KC: I was reading a journal report on how you can judge a lot about a person by whom their favorite football team is. You're a big Pittsburgh Steelers fan, and they are a hard-nosed, tough team year in and out. So how does that translate in your life when you're dealing with youth? Because sometimes I'm sure you have to use tough love.
Chief Hill: That is true. It all depends on who is in front of me. I have to make sure I adjust my mentoring to the level of the child I'm dealing with. But first and foremost, it is all about respect. I bring it from the heart that life is not a game. And with kids you have to show them passion in what you're doing, and I bring that every time. That's how I play it, and I drill it home from my heart to theirs. I feel that if that child fails, then I fail."
KC: Let's do a little word association. I'm going to say a word and I want the first word that comes to your mind. South Memphis.
Chief Hill: Development.
KC: North Memphis.
Chief Hill: Empowering.
KC: East Memphis.
Chief Hill: Engaged.
Chief Hill: Productive.
Chief Hill: Improvement.
KC: Memphis, Tennessee
Chief Hill: Potential
KC: What's your favorite Bible verse?
Chief Hill: Matthew 7:7. It says, "Ask and it shall be given unto you, seek and ye shall find, knock and the door shall be opened to you." These are very tough times in our world and especially in our community. People are going to have to realize that if you don't ask you won't get an answer, that if you don't knock then no one will know that you are there, and if you don't seek, you will never find anything. You have to do all of these things because without them, there is no vision and no goal.
KC: I like that and with that, the doors of the church are open.
(Just as a neighborhood should not be judged by the actions of a few bad apples, neither should law enforcement agencies. In partnership with the new Community Police Relations Project, The New Tri-State Defender's "Good Blue" column spotlights law enforcement officers who do it right. This week's focus is on Chief Inspector Larry Hill, Shelby County Sheriff's Office, Executive Officer Courts Division.)