Chrissie Cofield had dreams of being a law enforcement difference-maker early in her life.
“One of my high school classmates wrote in my ninth-grade yearbook that she hoped I became the police officer I always spoke of being,” she said.
Cofield not only hit the career mark she made for herself; she has achieved a level of success few others have. In mid-October 2018, she was named Chief of Police for the Laurens Police Department, becoming just the 11th female in the state to lead a police department.
The appointment, made by the Laurens City Council and then-Mayor John Stankus, has been the culmination of a decades-long law enforcement career in which Lander University has played a pivotal role.
Although born in California, Cofield moved quite a bit as a child, since her father was an active service member of the U.S. Marines.
“We even lived in Japan for a while before eventually settling in Clinton,” she recalled.
Two weeks after graduating from Clinton High School, Cofield enlisted in the U.S. Army as a military police (MP) officer. “I’m a firm believer in service, and at that time, I had no desire to attend college. So, I thought, what better way to serve my country than following in my father’s footsteps and joining the military?”
After basic training, Cofield was stationed in Korea for one year, followed by a stint in Kansas, before family life encouraged her to make another career decision.
“When I became expectant with my daughter, I was given the option to transition over to the Reserves,” said Cofield, now a mother of two, and engaged to be married in the fall of this year.
After her service in the military, Cofield worked briefly in security for an area hospital. a position that would lead directly to the City of Laurens Police Department.
“In 1999, I was involved in a minor traffic accident, and when Laurens police officers responded, they began to explain the legal process, which included filling out the incident report,” Cofield said. “I told them about my experience as an MP, and that I was familiar with the process. They then said I needed to come see them about a job.”
After a ride-along with then-Chief Robin Morse, Cofield was hired as a patrol officer.
“The first difference I noticed between life as an MP and a civilian police officer was that people we encountered in the military community had to do what we told them, because of their oath and the consequences under military law. In the civilian world, the people we encounter don’t have to do what we say, although there are still consequences stemming from the law,” she observed.
During encounters with civilians, Cofield relied heavily on her communication skills. “When I say communication skills, I mean that I have the gift of gab. Many of the people that police officers encounter every day just want to be heard, so it’s often best to let them vent and not take their words personally. As law enforcement officers, we have to understand that everyone does not react and process things as we do. I have found that being empathetic and compassionate are invaluable tools for a law enforcement officer.”
After finding her footing as a patrol officer, Cofield rose steadily through the ranks as her natural leadership skills became apparent to others around her. In 2005, she was promoted to the rank of patrol sergeant, before being promoted one year later to patrol lieutenant, assuming responsibility for a patrol shift of five officers and one dispatcher.
Shortly after the birth of her son, though, Cofield was diagnosed with symptomatic lupus, which can cause tremendous damage to the body via the immune system.
“It was then I realized that I couldn’t keep jumping in and out of police cars and chasing bad guys,” said, “but at the same time, I didn’t want to leave law enforcement, so I made the decision to pursue an administration position. To achieve that, though, I realized that I had to make my light shine a little bit brighter than that of others, so I pursued a four-year college deg0ree.”
After earning her associate’s degree from Piedmont Technical College, she earned her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice management from Lander, while still working for the Laurens Police Department. When she graduated in 2011, she was promoted to administrative captain, a position that gave her supervision over all administrative aspects of the department.
“Because a four-year degree was a requirement for the position, it was the Lander degree that was the catalyst for me being promoted to the rank of captain,” she said. “Even though I had years of professional experience under my belt, my relationships with my Lander professors added much to my skill set.”
With her appetite for furthering her education whetted, Cofield earned her master’s in criminal justice from Anderson University Command College. She even began leading criminal justice classes at PTC and the University of South Carolina at Union.
“My main emphasis to criminal justice students is, in addition to being here to protect and serve, we must place emphasis on service above self,” Cofield said. “Law enforcement officers get it right when it comes to protecting; however, we must begin building relationships with our communities. Let’s shake a few hands, help someone fix a flat tire, or just simply stop and ask if there is anything I can do to help you.
“Law enforcement is a great career because we are able to touch the lives of our community members daily.”
Further advancement for Cofield came in 2013 when she was promoted to the rank of Major and Assistant Police Chief during the tenure of then-chief Sonny Ledda.
When Ledda resigned to become Chief of Police in Clinton in early October, Cofield was Interim Chief in the immediate aftermath. Just a few weeks later, City Council removed the “interim” tag from Cofield’s position.
“Having worked directly with Chief Cofield, I can state without hesitation that she is a consummate professional,” said Ledda. “She is meticulous in everything she does and is a natural leader.”
In addition to her responsibilities as Chief of Police for the Laurens Police Department, Cofield is a member of the South Carolina Police Chiefs Association, South Carolina Police Officers Association, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement, National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives, The Riley Institute of Diversity Leadership (Riley Fellow), and FBI-LEEDA. She has also successfully completed the Carolina Command College sponsored by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
This story is featured in the Spring 2019 edition of Lander Magazine. Read more at www.lander.edu/magazine.