Gerald Brooks looked stunned when he walked into the municipal courtroom Friday morning and found it filled with his family, friends, coworkers and supporters.
Brooks served as Greenwood’s police chief for 28 years and retired with more than four decades of law enforcement experience. For his dedication and commitment to ensuring the Greenwood Police Department was the best agency he could make it, state Rep. John McCravy presented him the Order of the Palmetto.
Brooks began his law enforcement career in 1976 as a Greenwood County deputy, and would go on to lead the State Law Enforcement Division’s arson team and bomb squad. In 1991, he returned to Greenwood to serve as chief of police, and held that position until his retirement earlier this year.
In his tenure, he started the city’s K9 unit, victims services, school resource officers program and McCravy said he stretched every dollar in the budget and managed every resource he was given to make Greenwood’s police department the best it could be. He expected a lot from each of his officers, and they regularly rise to meet and surpass his expectations.
When he retired, Brooks said one of the things he was most proud of was getting the police department internationally accredited through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. The department has maintained its accreditation since 1998, and through its policies and practices has managed to earn commendations and honors few other agencies can boast.
“The city of Greenwood is one of only 39 agencies in the entire state of South Carolina that has this certification,” McCravy said. “That’s out of over 400 agencies, so we’re well in the top 10% of those.”
The Order of the Palmetto is the highest civilian service award in the state, recognizing a person’s lifetime achievements and contributions. To earn it, someone must recommend a candidate, then a state panel reviews the recommendation and supporting explanation and if they deem the person merits the award, the recommendation goes to the governor for approval.
McCravy recommended Brooks, alongside Greenwood County Sheriff Dennis Kelly, County Council chairman and former city manager Steve Brown, Mayor Brandon Smith and interim police Chief T.J. Chaudoin.
After McCravy introduced Brooks, he took to the lectern and joked that if he had known what he was in for, he would have gotten a haircut and worn a suit jacket. He took time to compose himself, saying he was overcome with emotion.
“It’s so hard to talk with a lump in your throat,” he said with a smile. “My family knows that I don’t like surprises, they know that. But they say there’s an exception to every rule, and I’ll admit this qualifies as that exception.”
Brooks spoke with humility, citing John Donne’s line that “No man is an island.” After saying he didn’t think he’d ever accomplished anything himself, he took a few seconds to think. He shared with the crowd that he’s had a longstanding goal of donating 100 pints of blood. He’s donated 92 so far, but he’s going to continue and intends to raise his goal once he meets it.
“For a few moments, I thought, well, that’s something I’ve done by myself: Donating blood. But then I thought about the phlebotomist that uses the alcohol swab, cleans my arm and inserts the needle. ... I’ve had help with everything I’ve ever done, and an awful lot of people in this room have helped me, starting with my family.”
His wife of 37 years, Donna, was joined by his daughters, Catherine and Laura Beth, along with his son, Whitfield, who is a Greenwood County deputy. Brooks said his family has always pushed him to do better and be better.
He said he’s served under three city managers, who have all been supportive of him. The dozens of officers in the room, he said, represented close coworkers he’s known for years and newer officers who put their faith in his leadership.
“I didn’t accomplish anything without you all, and certainly this staff of police officers know that,” he said. “I’d like to think I’ve been a little bit of a rudder and maybe steered us in the right direction, but the work down in the trenches, the difficult job of law enforcement has been done by these people right here.”
Above all, he said he always returns to scripture when he thinks on his career. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”
Those in the room lined up to shake Brooks’ hand, thanking and congratulating him. While waiting for him to wrap up, his family looked on, his wife wiping away tears.
“It’s just great to see him recognized,” she said. “He puts his heart and soul into his work.”
Catherine said as a girl, she always grew up thinking of her dad as the greatest in the world, but she said as an adult now she knows it. Whitfield said he knew his dad isn’t a fan of surprises, and he played the role of making sure everyone in the family knew about the surprise without tipping his dad off.
“I’ve been in law enforcement for 14 years now. In what I’ve experienced in 14 years, it makes 44 years seem unfathomable,” he said. “I know a lot of parents say they’re proud of their kids, but I couldn’t be more proud of my dad right now.”
It’s a two-way street, Brooks said, after he finished shaking hands and speaking with those who wanted to give him their gratitude.
“I hope I have been good for them, but every one of them has been good for me,” he said. “I think the Lord has looked after us. Twenty-eight years as chief and we’ve never lost an officer on duty. I see God’s hand in that.”
Chaudoin, who was chosen to serve as Brooks’ successor as interim chief, said Brooks has served as a role model for everyone who worked under him.
“He’s the type of person who not only makes you want to be a better police officer, but a better man,” he said. “It’s an honor to follow someone with that much integrity.”