In thick, black ink is a knight chess piece set in front of two crossed swords and surrounded by an inscription with three words: persuade, change and influence. He said it is the hostage negotiator’s crest, and although it looks intimidating, Herring’s job is actually the opposite.
The SWAT team hostage negotiator has known since he was 15 years old that he was going to be a cop. He remembers watching the TV shows with the bright, flashing blue lights, shiny uniforms and action-packed drama.
Now, he is on the front lines.
As a negotiator, Herring said, time is on his side unless there is an immediate threat. His job is to calm people down and talk them into the most peaceful outcome, although it does not always end that way.
The situation that sticks out in his mind was a Christmas Day showdown on Sunny Day drive in 2008.
According to The Augusta Chronicle’s archives, Georgette P. Reid held a 5-year-old boy hostage over a bad breakup. When hostage negotiators couldn’t get Reid to release the child, SWAT team members set off two diversionary flash grenades and pushed their way into a barricaded bedroom, finding Reid with an 8-inch butcher knife to the boy’s throat. A SWAT team member shot Reid once in the upper chest. She survived and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
“We couldn’t establish contact,” he said. “It was an intense day.”
When Herring is not out talking people down from the edge, he spends his days investigating burglaries around the county as part of the department’s task force.
“I loved the idea (of a burglary task force) from the beginning,” he said. “Burglaries rob people of their sense of security. If you can’t feel safe at home, you can’t feel safe anywhere.”
As a property crimes investigator, Herring spends his days canvassing neighbors of burglary victims, tracking down stolen items and questioning suspects.
The Augusta native graduated from Aquinas High School and started working as a school officer at Augusta College in 1993. After a year he applied at the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, where he started as a dispatcher and eventually got his blue uniform.
“I loved it,” he said. “I loved everything. The marked car, the uniform. I wanted to get the bad guys.”
After Herring was married, he decided to leave law enforcement and started Applebee’s restaurant-management program. He said he made a lot more money, but within six months he knew he had made a mistake by leaving.
“If it’s in your blood, it’s going to start gnawing at you,” he said.
In 1997, Herring joined the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office as a road patrol deputy. He moved up the ranks as quickly as he could, becoming a training officer and then a traffic cop.
During his time on the streets, he attended an in-house recruitment event where he learned there was an opening on the SWAT hostage negotiation team. He was quick to sign up.
“I wanted to be part of something that’s special,” he said. “It is kind of nice to be one of the people the sheriff calls when he needs help with a situation.”
Eventually, he realized the next step was investigations.
“It took me a long time (to apply in investigations),” he said. “I had no desire to move off road patrol.”
Herring was in violent crimes for a few months before he moved to property crimes and joined the burglary task force. More than a year later, he is happy he did.
“What we’re doing is working,” he said.
His first recommendation to homeowners who would rather not have their flat screens run off with strangers? Get to know your neighbors.
“Neighbors need to get to know each other so they will look after each other,” he said. “In the end, those are the people who will help out the most.”