Master Public Safety Officer Jason Griffin remembers watching the television show 'Rescue 911', which featured re-enactments of real-life emergency situations.
“I think it was every night,” Griffin recalled. “This job is a calling, and it was just in my family.”
Griffin has chosen to spend the majority of his career with the Aiken Department of Public Safety over other agencies because of a “special connection” between the department and the community.
He grew up in Aiken County and has been involved with the agency for 19 years, starting out as a cadet in the Public Safety cadet program when he was 18 years old.
Griffin said he wanted to be a police officer ever since he was a little kid.
Griffin said he is “legitimately, living the dream” by getting to do what he loves for work each day and getting to go home after work to his happy, healthy family.
He and his wife, Lindsey, have three kids, Jackson, 10, Maddie, 4, and 1-year-old Riley.
Aiken Public Safety recently honored Griffin with a once-in-a-career award during the department’s 2019 Awards Ceremony in May. He was awarded the coveted “Officer of the Year Award” for his passion and commitment with the agency for nearly two decades.
“I’m just very, very honored — I’m very excited about it,” Griffin said. “I was definitely surprised.”
He officially became a police officer at age 21, which is when he moved over to the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office for a brief amount of time.
“I just – I don’t know why I did that. I just did, and that’s where I started my law enforcement career,” he explained. “But I learned pretty quick that (Aiken Public Safety) was where I truly wanted to be.”
Aiken Public Safety offers a unique experience where its police officers must also be certified firefighters. This was a big draw for Griffin, who said his loves for “both the firing and police sides” helped him make the decision to come back to Aiken Public Safety for good.
Griffin’s uncle, his dad’s brother, was a retired major with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, where he worked for over 30 years. He also had two uncles on his mother’s side who were firefighters with the GVW Volunteer Fire Department in Graniteville for several years.
“It kind of ran in the blood a little bit,” he said. “I just knew right away that was something I was going to be interested in; and ever since I was a kid, that never changed.”
Over the course of his career, Griffin found he was interested in different aspects of policing and, in his spare time, took classes to become certified in many interesting fields.
One of his certifications is in hostage negotiation. He is one of the few certified hostage negotiators with the department.
“We don’t get many of those calls out (for a hostage negotiator), but there was a time where, I think within one week’s time, we had two barricaded people — and I was called out to both situations.”
Griffin is one of only three hostage negotiators with Aiken Public Safety. During his career, he said he luckily only has been called out to four hostage situations.
“One of those situations involved an officer-involved shooting, which was pretty serious,” he explained. “So, I was trying to talk this guy out of the house that had fired a weapon at police. That was definitely a dangerous situation, but it ended with the guy finally surrendering peacefully.”
Griffin has also been a certified investigator with the agency for three years. He was named lead investigator in two recent murder investigations, both of which ended with arrests. However, he isn’t able to share details as both of those investigations are still ongoing.
He chose to do extensive training classes for hostage negotiations and investigations because he realized he had a “knack for talking to people.”
“Everybody gets to work in patrol in the beginning; that’s where all police officers have to start out, and that’s what we all end up doing for several years,” Griffin said. “I did patrol for a while and then got moved to community services where I spent a lot of time working in neighborhoods. This allowed me the chance to talk extensively to the people in these communities and help them with their problems. After a while, I started to realize I really liked this portion of the work and wouldn’t mind doing more into the investigation side of things.”
Investigations has many specialized fields, requiring training classes on crime scenes, detective work, interviews and interrogation.
“Interrogators have to be able to communicate with the people they’re questioning by getting into the mindset of the person they’re interviewing,” he said. “There is a real art to the whole thing. If you’re interrogating somebody and they get mad at you with what you’re asking – then they will likely shut down and stop talking. That’s not what you want; you want to keep them talking.”
Griffin has been able to experience the different sides of policing at the same police agency, choosing to stay with Aiken Public Safety for his entire career.
This decision is unique compared with the majority of officers who start out with the department. Most officers who start their careers in Aiken end up leaving after a brief stint, taking on work with another agency or moving into a different field, like security.
Griffin decided to stay with the department for its unique “family quality” and the “special connection” with the community, which he hasn’t been able to find anywhere else.
“This place is almost like a second family. You know, you have your immediate family that you live with, but this is like a second family. Everybody’s close knit here.”
Griffin is unable to see himself working for a big police agency, saying “(Aiken Public Safety) is the perfect size.”
The department also has a great relationship with the local community, he said.
“The citizens here support this agency unlike anything I’ve seen before,” Griffin said. “Most police agencies struggle to have any kind of relationship with the community they police, and that’s become even more of an issue in recent years — but, Aiken Public Safety doesn’t have that problem.”
This unique relationship makes many aspects of being a police officer in Aiken much easier, he said.
Griffin said another aspect of Public Safety keeping him with the agency is the one-on-one connections he gets with his mentors, like longtime Public Safety Capt. David Turno.
“When I first started out here, (Turno) was the supervisor over the cadets,” Griffin explained. “I’ve pretty much known him for my whole career.”
Turno said he considers his relationship with Griffin to be “very strong.” The two not only golf together, but also go to church together each week.
Looking back to first meeting Griffin as an 18-year-old cadet, Turno saw something great within him.
“He was just this young, energetic man,” Turno said. “You could tell right away this was a career he really had a passion for, and he proved to everyone that being an officer was his calling by excelling in basically everything he did.”
The great thing about the Aiken Public Safety cadet program is it allows young men to come in and learn a lot about the job, giving them the chance to see if this career is right for them, Turno said.
“Many cadets come through the program and quickly find they just are not cut out for this kind of work,” Turno said. “I started my career off as a cadet here as well, and it really takes a special person to be a great police officer — and (Griffin) was absolutely made to do this. His work ethic and desire to succeed is nothing short of impressive. He is a model police officer, the type of employee you want other people to emulate.”
Griffin also knows when to take some time off for himself and his family.
“This job gets stressful, and we’ve had some extremely tragic things happen here,” Turno said. “This job has a way of getting to all of us at one point or another. That’s why it’s so important to take time off and relax from time to time.”
In his spare time, Griffin enjoys playing golf with Turno and his son.
“(Turno) is just always somebody good to talk to, especially if I have any issues concerning the job, because he’s had a very good, long career here,” Griffin said.
He takes his eldest son Jackson to play golf at The First Tee of Aiken.
“Oh, (Jackson) is better than me (at playing golf),” Griffin laughed.
Griffin is also looking forward to an upcoming golf competition in which his son will play in Evans, Georgia.
“If Jackson progresses in that tournament, then we will go to Savannah and do a regional competition,” he said. “(Jackson) is fascinated with sports, period; and I always was growing up. So, whatever sport he wants to do, I’m doing it with him. I love it.”
Griffin said he enjoys spending as much time as possible with his family. He and his wife, Lindsey, are big planners and will plan every move they make.
“We go pick up groceries after church on Sunday, then Lindsey and I will plan out the meals for the rest of the week — we love it,” he said.
The next move for the Griffin family is a vacation to Disney World, which they already have planned out to the minor details.
“It’s going to be a blast. I know the kids are just going to love it. I’m really looking forward to that trip.”
All in all, Griffin represents the epitome of what a police officer truly is all about, Turno said.
“Of anybody who deserves the Officer of the Year Award, it’s him,” he said.
Griffin said he doesn’t plan on retiring from Aiken Public Safety anytime soon and will continue to do everything he can to be the best he can be.