Former Soldier returns as top cop
January 5, 2011
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Fort Jackson has a new top cop. His name is David Navarro.
Similar to a city's chief of police, Navarro is the installation's supervisory police officer, who oversees all military and civilian police officers on post.
"My primary goal is to teach my officers how to deal with situations similar to those I've dealt with on the outside," said Navarro, an 11-year veteran with the Richland County Sheriff's Department who came on board in late October.
Navarro joined the RCSD in 1999 after retiring from the Army as a first sergeant here.
"When you're growing up and somebody asks, 'What do you want to do when you grow up'' I always said, 'I want to be a police officer,'" Navarro said. "So for my second career after leaving the military, I chose to pursue that. It's something that I truly wanted to do."
The San Diego native said when he joined the Army in 1979 at 19, he had intended on becoming a military policeman. But because he would have had to wait in the delayed entry program for more than a year to become an MP, Navarro said he decided to enlist as a light-wheeled vehicle mechanic. Navarro said he decided to stay in that field until he retired from the Army after 20 years.
Just a month before retiring, Navarro met Columbia's current Police Chief Randy Scott, who was a corporal then and taking the same local college class with Navarro here at Fort Jackson. On the first day of class, Navarro watched Scott, sweaty and wearing a muddy uniform, as he sat down next to him.
"I looked at him and said, 'Wow, what happened to you''"
Scott told Navarro he worked for the RCSD and that he had just gotten into a chase on Percival Road right before class.
The two men talked more between breaks and Scott asked Navarro when he was going to get out of the military.
"When I told him I was getting out the following month, he said, 'You ought to come work for us,'" Navarro said.
Soon after, Scott introduced Navarro to Sheriff Leon Lott. During that meeting, Navarro decided to become a deputy. Navarro said Scott and Lott became his mentors.
For the next decade Navarro moved through the ranks of deputy, master deputy, corporal, sergeant and lieutenant for the RCSD, working in Region 3, which stretches from Monticello Road to Wilson Boulevard in North Columbia - one of the toughest areas in the county to patrol, he said.
"While most officers didn't want to go to that area because of the crime rate, I chose to go there because what would take an officer in another region a year or two to learn, I could learn in almost three to six months in Region 3. And I did learn, really fast.
"It was a tough region and I had a lot of opportunities to experience everything that is related to law enforcement," Navarro said. "In regards to crime, it was all there - bank robberies, personal robberies, false alarms, domestics, stolen cars, stolen plates. I've been in shooting situations and busted drug deals."
He advanced quickly along his career path, ultimately being put in charge of specialized units, such as the community action team, traffic unit, health and safety unit, canine units and more. His primary specialty was in drug enforcement.
"Navarro was one of the most active deputies ever at Richland County," Lott said. "I'm very proud of him. I've watched him grow personally and professionally. He has developed into a true leader of people. He loves being a police officer and that shows in his duty performance."
Navarro said the greatest satisfaction he has gained from being a police officer has been from making citizens feel safe in their environment.
"When we make (citizens) feel they don't have to sell their property or run from their neighborhoods, that we've helped them regain custody of their areas, that's a beautiful thing," Navarro said.
Not only did he catch criminals, he said he talked to them as people and tried to guide them away from a life of crime.
"I've had parents come up to me and say, 'I just want to shake your hand. Thank you so much for what you did for my son. That was the best thing that could have happened to him. Just to let you know, he's going to college now,'" Navarro said. "I'm like, 'Wow, that's a good thing.'"
Navarro said he has also seen his fair share of negatives as a cop, but he always learns from his experiences.
"I think it makes me a better person. It makes me appreciate my family more, and it makes me want to do my job more, to make a difference for citizens; I want to make (society) better for them."
During his tenure with the RCSD, Navarro also earned a bachelor's and a master's degree in criminal justice.
Lott said the combination of Navarro's education, military career and civilian law enforcement experience makes Navarro an excellent choice as Fort Jackson's top cop. He said Navarro's relationships within the community and the RCSD will also strengthen the county's ties with Fort Jackson.
Col. James Love, garrison commander, agreed.
"Navarro brings the perfect blend of experience to the job," Love said. "Due to his military experience, he understands our regulations, (standard operation procedures) and tactics, techniques and procedures. His civilian experience allows him to implement best practices from the civilian sector. It's really the perfect mix.
"I think he will understand all aspects of protecting a diverse and large installation like we have here," Love continued. "He's been in the military and worked as a civilian police officer in a large metropolitan area working complex issues. Those experiences will really benefit all of us as he leads an already excellent police force. We're looking for Navarro to take us to an even higher level of professionalism, competence and readiness."
Navarro said it is his understanding that the mission of Fort Jackson and the Army comes first that will help him be successful in his new position. The only thing he'll have to get used to, is the slower pace, he said.
"Fort Jackson's crime rate is a lot different (than the county's)," Navarro said. "It's a tremendous challenge, but I'm adapting. I'm taking it day by day."
He said he's proud to be given the opportunity to serve the Fort Jackson community.
"I think it's a gift," Navarro said. "What a beautiful thing it is that I was a Soldier here and now I get to serve Soldiers and their families."