Bennettsville Police Chief Larry McNeil knows the value of an education. It has helped him move up through the ranks during his nearly 25-year career in law enforcement and handle the operations of a department of 34 officers with a $2 million budget.
"Had I not started at Northeastern Technical College, I would never have gotten here," said McNeil, seated in his office overlooking Main Street in Bennettsville.
McNeil earned an Associate of Arts degree from NETC in 1993. He went on to complete a bachelor's degree and master's degree from Gardner Webb University.
"It didn't take me long to realize that with an education came more money and more promotions," McNeil said. "If you put in the time toward your education, the reward in the work place will be bigger."
McNeil said his family always emphasized the value of getting an education. Despite that, he chose going to work as a police officer in Bennettsville after high school over a full ride to Fayetteville State University. He was eager to hit the streets and protect and serve his community.
As his career developed, he began working in corrections and then vocational rehabilitation. He soon realized that a college degree could boost his career, so he enrolled at NETC, which was then named Chesterfield-Marlboro Technical College.
"I chose to attend NETC because it was handy, for a lack of better words," McNeil said. "It was conveniently located. I was working, and I was a parent. I took evening classes, which allowed me to handle my day-to-day responsibilities."
McNeil said NETC made going back to school easy. He had flexibility when scheduling his classes; he received financial aid through the federal Pell Grant program; and he had great teachers who gave him individualized attention and instruction.
The associate degree he earned from NETC set him on the pathway to earning both a bachelor's in criminal justice and a master's in human resources development. He went from working as a vocational rehabilitation associate to director of the Palmetto Center, a substance abuse center in in Florence.
In 2000, the City of Bennettsville hired McNeil to be police chief. In his 12-year tenure as chief, he has initiated a number of programs that promote school and public safety. He earned the Municipal Association Award for Public Safety in 2002-2003, was invited to attend the FBI Academy in 2004, was elected president of the S.C Police Chief Association in 2009-2010, and was named Police Chief of the year by the S.C. Law Enforcement Victims Advocate Association in 2010.
In January, he had the honor of presenting scholarships to four Marlboro County students who are enrolled in NETC's criminal justice program. The Bennettsville Police Department and community partners sponsored the scholarship fund, along with a summer basketball league. This is the first year the scholarships have been awarded to NETC students, but McNeil said the police department intends to make this an annual event.
Because of the significant impact education has had on his life, McNeil said keeping kids in school and on the right track is very important to him. The police department's afterschool program for students who get suspended from school has improved the retention rate of these at-risk students, and his police officers also take part in a reading program in the primary schools.
"Education is so important," McNeil said. "The education I received at NETC was my pathway to a fulfilling, exciting and successful career."
McNeil, who resides in Bennettsville, has two daughters, Koya Johnson and Leah McNeil, and three grandsons.
Tags: Jumpstart to Education