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Impressed with sheriffs deputies

Don Cohen

I was both flattered and reluctantly resigned when I agreed to Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoys invitation to sit on a citizens panel to interview candidates for new sergeant positions for the Eagle County Sheriffs Office. Driving to Eagle I was mentally preparing for a grinding, mind-numbing day. It was a day lasting over nine hours and it was one of the most fascinating and uplifting nine-plus hours I can recall spending in a very long time.Sheriff Hoy had invited five of us for the interview panel, Chris Mayhew, principal at Brush Creek Elementary; Rohn Robbins, local attorney; Susie Davis, The Youth Foundation; me; and John Minor, Summit County sheriff. With the exception of Sheriff Minor, who was an exceptional technical expert and interviewer, the rest of us were about as regular civilians as you could have asked for. Sheriff Hoy joined us for all the interviews, but only as an observer.Among the many surprising things I learned during the interviews is that the Sheriffs Office hasnt had any sergeants since the late 1990s. A sergeant would be equivalent to a middle manager in business. As the Sheriffs Office has grown, the team model that theyve been using has come under re-evaluation. Sheriff Hoy has wisely determined that a slightly more vertical structure would approve consistency and accountability.New sergeant positions were going to be created for detentions (the jail) and patrol. Our panels job was to meet with each of the 15 candidates. Each candidate had the opportunity to tell us about their background, job and interests. Our panel would then engage them in a Q&A session. While we asked similar questions of all candidates, many of our questions were posed to gain more insight into the individual.In fairness to all the candidates I dont want to single any individual out. While this was a diverse group of 15 candidates, we were all struck by the fact that every deputy we interviewed was very professional and took great pride in his or her work.I think we were surprised, as I suspect youll be, too, that the overriding interest in all the candidates choice of career was that they enjoy people. That was an answer I might have thought was more suitable for a salesperson or customer service representative.I really enjoy working with people. We heard that statement time and time again. And this clearly wasnt some manufactured line thrown in strictly for interview purposes. You could tell that these deputies enjoyed the camaraderie within the department, but really enjoyed the interactions they had with all of us civilians from the wealthiest to the indigent. While they admitted to times where a shift might be boringly quiet, they loved the anticipation that each new day of duty would bring with it unexpected situations to be dealt with and opportunities for satisfaction in knowing that they would be of service.A few times the use of a weapon came up. The responses we heard from deputies who had to pull their weapon were quiet, measured and decidedly reluctant. None of us felt that this reaction had anything to do with sitting in a room of citizens or in front of their boss. It was clear, when weapons are involved it is very serious and potentially deadly business. It was a decision of last resort or final defense.Id never heard the term verbal judo before. It describes the technique that all deputies are taught to defuse a situation with words instead of action. The use of techniques like verbal judo help defuse situations and keep guns holstered is a goal the patrol deputies take great pride in. It was reassuring to see that they are hard-wired to exhaust all non-violent options before the escalation of force. A question Sheriff Minor asked of all the patrol deputies laid out a situation in which excessive force by a fellow deputy was witnessed. Forget the blue wall of silence idea, to a person each patrol deputy made it clear that rules were rules and their oath of office and code of conduct trumped long-term friendship or even being related to an out-of-line fellow officer.Many of the deputies are parents. As one of them said, How can I be a good parent if I dont set a good example? These are all individuals who know that the profession theyve chosen requires that they hold themselves to a higher standard of ethical conduct. They wear this responsibility with both dignity and good humor.Our view through movies and television of law enforcement officers runs the gamut from heroic to flawed, from scientist to commando. Spending a day interviewing Eagle Countys top cops left me with a very different impression. What I saw were bright, articulate, friendly people with a passion for service and a deep, deep desire to serve all of us who live in and visit Eagle County. I just wish you could have been there with me.Don Cohen, executive director of the Vail Valley Economic Council, can be reached at dcohen@vvec.orgVail, Colorado


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