Deputy Sheriff Danny Brown is part of the Community Action Team (CAT), in South Carolina’s Richland County (South Carolina) Sheriff’s Department. The team includes 15 members of the department who make up what he calls a “snapshot of every community you could think of across the country.”
Before his first in-studio appearance on Live PD, A&E Real Crime spoke to Brown about what CAT is all about, a couple of embarrassing moments and the story behind his unique Twitter handle.
What is the Community Action Team all about?
Basically, we’re neighborhood officers. We go to community meetings. We establish crime watches. We’re able to touch base with just about any part of our community at any time. When new people get on the team, we assign them to an area so they can have personal contact with those communities. [As a result,] those communities have personal relationships with the Sheriff’s Department. So it’s not just somebody coming out and answering a call—it’s somebody there to work with the community on [their] problems.
On patrol nights, like Live PD nights, we’ll actually use some of the intel we gather from those community meetings to set up our patrol patterns.
What’s the team’s priority?
We’re not out there to solve the communities’ problems for them, but to help the communities build better relationships, and get rid of some long-term problems with long-term solutions.
We’re also trained on doing active shooter presentations, home safety presentations, holiday safety—basically all kinds of crime prevention. [Members of the team] are really certified crime prevention officers. [For example] we visit people’s homes, free of charge, and help them improve the security in the houses, which leads to less and less burglaries down the line.
What kind of impact has the team had on the community?
It took me a couple years, but I’ve built trust with the communities [we work with. Now they know] if they tell me something it will get solved. If they gave us a tip on a drug house or a gang house, [they know] we’re going to work on it until it’s solved.
The Sheriff [puts information out] immediately. If we have car break-ins, we know we can reach out to that community president and say, ‘Hey, we’re having a trend in this area, if you see anything, give us a call.’ The trust that they can pick up that phone and call us, has made a big difference.
[Across the country, when there’s] tension between law enforcement and the civilian population the members of our CAT team are the first ones to go out and start talking to people and say, ‘Hey, let’s try to figure this out.’
Any specific examples of the CAT team’s local outreach making a direct difference?
[Recently] we were out changing light bulbs [donated by AARP] in older people’s homes. Those [conversations] started going into, ‘There’s a lot of activity at this one house over here. A lot of possible drug sales going on. We see people coming in and out of there.’
We went [to the place they told us about] and, sure enough, you could smell [the drugs]. We got enough phone calls for a search warrant, and we got a lot of drugs out of there. We recovered two stolen pistols. There were five or six dogs that were not being taken care of, so we were able to save those dogs. And it was directly across from an elementary school.
The community trusted us. We wouldn’t have known about it if we weren’t out there going door-to-door. They’re like, ‘Hey, you put some light bulbs in, I’m gonna give y’all a little bit of information.’
Does this kind of thing happen often?
That’s happened several times—just driving in the communities with the Camaros. The kids will come up and talk to us. They’ll be like, ‘So-and-so’s over there selling seasoning out of the house.’
And, I’m like, ‘Really?’
And they’re like, ‘Yeah, it’s just some green stuff.’
And I’m like, Okay. We’ll check it out.’ Some of them don’t even realize what they’re telling us. [They’ll just say,] ‘That house smells funny,’ or something like that.
Taking a step out into the Live PD network of departments, does networking ever happen between departments who know each other through the show?
I have one big connection on the national level. I ended up linking up with [Patrol Sergeant David] Moreno, from Utah (of the Utah Highway Patrol), in Las Vegas for a couple hours back in April. [And now] he will hit me up if they find some hidden compartments that we haven’t seen before, because they get a lot of drug trafficking coming in through Utah. I’ve learned a lot on compartments and tires from those guys, watching the show.
[Sgt. Sean] ‘Sticks’ [Larkin] will hit me up with some [information on] new gang tattoos or [will give me]info if I have a gang question. We’ve got a really good gang taskforce out here, but Sticks and [his team] out in Tulsa, they’ve been working on gangs for a while, too.
What’s the funniest thing that has happened to you on Live PD, or related to the fact that you’re on the show?
It wasn’t funny to me at the time, but we had just gotten issued a [Chevy] Tahoe for the [department]. Right after we got it, I ended up wrecking it on the show. Nobody got hurt. We got it back then, [just a few days ago]—I got out [for] a suspect and he didn’t put [his] car in park and it drove forward and hit the Tahoe, again.
I’ve [also] tripped on the show. We had to hop over a fence, and we got over that fence, but I didn’t see the next chain-link laying on the ground and it tripped me and I rolled. [They] got that one on camera. Everybody was doing all these GIFs of people tripping on Twitter. It was pretty funny.
Speaking of Twitter, where does your handle, @thundacat830 come from?
When I first came on active duty with the Army, we played basketball just about every day. A buddy of mine, Brian Mills, started calling me Thunda D and Thunda Dan. Then about a year before I got hired at the Sheriff’s Department, Brian got killed in a wreck over in Lexington County. I kept that Thunda. The cat was because I got put on the CAT team.
What about the 830?
That was my first call sign when I got on the County. When I first made the CAT team, it was a huge accomplishment for me. I was proud of it.
You mentioned being on active duty. Tell us a little bit about how your time in the military has informed how you do your job now.
Being in the military, you’re kind of forced—and thank God we are—to be around many cultures at one time. You’re there with people from different religions, different beliefs, different music. It just leads into some really cool cultural diversity.
That’s where my music tastes come in, that’s where my food tastes come in. I listen to everything. [The experience] aids you in treating people a little bit more humanely, when you understand that people are different and people make mistakes. I think the military teaches you a lot about that.
What kind of impact do you feel Live PD has had, in a broad sense?
Sticks and I were [just] talking about this–the show and the changes that it’s made all across the country. To be honest with you, when I was growing up, I didn’t like the police, and we were talking about how the show has been a conversation starter in areas where we hadn’t been able to get it going. I’ve got kids coming up to me at gas stations wanting me to sign their ball caps. That just doesn’t happen!
We’ve had people come up to us and tell us, ‘You know, man, I’m still not a big fan of the police, but at least now I understand.’ It’s a good start.
At the end of the day, what is this all about for you?
Down-to-the-roots community policing is what we’re doing. Our sole job is basically working our way out of a job!
And the CAT team is kind of like our version of Mayberry [the fictional town where the Andy Griffith Show took place]. Everybody in that town knew Andy and Barney, and they would go over to the sheriff’s department if they had a problem. It’s harder to do on such a large scale, but we’ve got community members who know these deputies by their first names. It’s what this team has been about.