COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The city's involvement regarding the decision to change orders given by the police department to march in Saturday's SC Pride Parade was not an ideal precedent to set, Columbia Interim Chief Ruben Santiago said Friday.
Santiago says his officers needed to be at the South Carolina Pride Parade. Marching, he says, was about sending a message.
"People see firsthand, 'hey the department is about equality, they are about acceptance,'" Santiago said. "We want to make sure we instill that so that if they do require our services, they won't hesitate one bit to count on us."
While some officers were assigned with crowd and traffic control, others, from the department's community services division, were ordered to march.
Two of them objected saying it conflicted with their religious beliefs.
"An officer cannot choose their assignments based on their religious beliefs," Santiago said. "Mind you, we want to make accommodations where we can, but in this case, we went through the process of trying to get volunteers, and ultimately it came down to meeting the needs of that event and that's why the directive was given."
But the objections continued and one of those officers started copying emails to City Manager Teresa Wilson's office, going over Santiago's head.
On the morning of the event, Wilson had a discussion with Santiago, and what was a mandatory march was suddenly voluntary.
"I would respect their wishes and their position, but I'm also going to say this is something you have to do," said Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott.
The Richland County Sheriff's Department also had deputies marching that day.
Lott said he agreed with Santiago that an officer's oath precludes them from ignoring lawful orders, and that the city's involvement, doesn't help.
"A chief or sheriff has to be able to make the decisions, a person that works underneath him are not going to respect them if they don't have the ability to make decisions, and I think that's a problem with the Columbia Police Department, not just now but for many many years," Lott said.
Santiago said the situation is not an ideal precedent to set.
"When you have a police department that really values strict discipline and adherence and obedience to directives, the Chief of Police is the person they look toward for that direction," Santiago said.
"Any department that expects to instill public trust, must demonstrate that by being visible to the public," said Santiago.