How to Tell an Officer’s Rank

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Nosal & Jeter, LLP

852 Gold Hill Rd., Ste 201

Fort Mill, SC 29708

How to Tell the Rank of SC Law Enforcement Officers?

Knowing some basic information about the hierarchy and structure of law enforcement agencies in South Carolina can help improve your interaction with state and local law enforcement officers.  Don’t start out on the wrong foot at a traffic stop by inadvertently offending a police officer.  The charging officer writes an abbreviation for his rank and name on every South Carolina traffic ticket.

Why does Rank and Agency Matter?

As in almost any profession, there is some level or hierarchy that distinguishes members of that profession from their colleagues and the general public. Calling someone by their rank or title is a sign of respect, especially when they are serving in their official capacity. However, different law enforcement agencies have different titles that can often be confusing to the general public. The common ranks and abbreviations for South Carolina law enforcement officers are as follows:

South Carolina Highway Patrol

Common Name of Sworn Personnel: “Trooper”               Abbreviation: TRP

The South Carolina Department of Public Safety (SCDPS) has two branches of law enforcement that primarily handle traffic enforcement: (1) South Carolina Highway Patrol (SCHP) and (2) South Carolina State Transport Police Division (SCSTP). The primary job of the Highway Patrol (commonly called “State Troopers”) is to enforce traffic laws regarding ordinary drivers.  The primary objective of Transport Police is to enforce traffic laws relating to commercial motor vehicles.  State Troopers write tickets that are prosecuted in a County Magistrate Court.

County Sheriff’s Office

Common Name of Sworn Personnel: “Deputy” or “Master Deputy”  Abbreviation: DEP or MD 

Sheriff’s Department: SD    For example,  the Colleton County Sheriff’s Department  may be abbreviated: CCSD

Each county in South Carolina has a County Sheriff’s department (with a “Sheriff” and “Deputies”) that enforces traffic laws within their County.  Sheriff Deputies write tickets that are prosecuted in the County Magistrate Court.

Local Police Departments

Common Name of Sworn Personnel: “Officers” Abbreviation: OFC or OFF

Police Department: PD     For example, the Spartanburg Police Department is commonly abbreviated: SPD

Most towns and cities also have a local police department (with a “Chief of Police” and “Officers”) that enforces traffic laws within the city municipal limits.  City Police Department tickets are written for the city Municipal court.  For example, a Yemassee Municipal Court speeding ticket was written by Yemassee police officers in the municipality.

“Officer” Golden Rule

It is proper to call a State Trooper a “trooper” and a Sheriff’s deputy a “deputy” but never call a trooper a deputy or a deputy a trooper. However, it is OK to call both  troopers and deputies as “officer.”  Golden Rule: All sworn law enforcement officials are officers of the law, so when in doubt calling any law enforcement official an “Officer” is appropriate.

Hierarchy within each Agency

Each law enforcement agency also has their own internal rank structure, and it is courteous to call an officer by their earned rank.  Some common rank abbreviations are as follows:

Chief – Chief    Major  – MAJ    Captain – CPT     Lieutenant – LT

Sergeant – SGT (Sergeant is the most difficult rank to place because police departments, sheriff departments, and Hwy patrol all use the rank of sergeant)

Corporal – CPL     Lance Corporal – L/CPL (Hwy Patrol)

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Our Attorneys

Peter J. Nosal, Esq.

Phone: (803) 351-3597

Email: [email protected]

Fax: (803) 403-9515

Thomas C. Jeter III, Esq.