Colorado sheriffs encouraged to be calm amid overheated political rhetoric
EDWARDS — Greg Champagne, sheriff of Louisiana’s St. Charles Parish, looked out across a room filled with like-minded professionals and smiled.
Champagne is president of the National Sheriff’s Association and has spoken at more than two-dozen state association gatherings. He was in Edwards for a confab of County Sheriffs of Colorado, hosted by the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office. Champagne was taking the circuitous route home from Philadelphia, where he spent some time trying to talk a few hysterical politicians down from the ceiling.
A longtime member of the chattering class in Philadelphia was pontificating that sheriffs have too much power, but not enough citizen review.
Champagne begged to differ, as did Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek. In 48 of our 50 United States, county sheriffs are elected.
“We go to all the voters every four years,” Champagne said.
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“I have 54,000 people on my review board,” van Beek said, referring to the number of residents in Eagle County.
Sheriffs are elected by the people, and their job is to protect them, Champagne said.
“If terrorists attack, sheriffs and their deputies will be the first to put themselves in the line of fire,” said Mitch Javidi, Ph.D., founder of the National Leadership and Staff College, who offered a refresher to Colorado sheriffs about leadership.
Being a Sheriff is a great gig
A sheriff gig is a great job, Champagne said, but it can be a tough time to be in law enforcement. Some of those wounds are self-inflicted, some of it is the overheated rhetoric of our current political climate.
“Our message is for sheriffs to be the voice of calm in their counties,” Champagne said.
Champagne said police-involved shootings are part of it: Ferguson, Missouri; and Baltimore; St. Paul, Minnesota; New Orleans … it has been “difficult,” he said.
“You get a 10-second video of someone on the ground bleeding, and it plays on television for weeks. It’s always an ugly sight. The inflamed rhetoric that follows that creates a lot of anger about that,” Champagne said.
Political hostility is not new
Our hostile political climate has been simmering for years, and President Donald Trump did not bring it to light, Champagne said. Now, though, political issues are front and center.
For example, Champagne said the Obama administration deported 2.5 million people, but deportation wasn’t much of an issue.
“Unfortunately, law enforcement is seeing so much of that hostility,” Champagne said.
And that circled Champagne’s talk to Colorado’s county sheriffs back around to calm.
“They’re saying people have a right to be angry when they have a police shooting, and of course they do,” Champagne said. “But a lot of that hostility then feeds into these fringe people. Let it go through the justice system.”
Five officers in Dallas, Texas, were killed in an ambush when two reportedly mentally disturbed men mistook overheated political rhetoric for a call to action. A similar scenario unfolded in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where a sheriff’s deputy and two police officers were killed.
“Yes, there are police shootings, but we appeal for calm,” Champagne said. “Let the criminal justice system work. It’s a process, and it takes time for these things to resolve.”
Champagne said we need to put fewer nonviolent people in jail.
“On the other hand, some of the state and federal politicians who say the system is unfair and oppressive are the same ones who make those laws. We enforce those laws,” he said.