Van Beek: The decision of should over can (column) |

Van Beek: The decision of should over can (column)

James van Beek
Valley Voices
James van Beek

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Power is a strange thing. Those who didn’t have to earn it, tend to flaunt it. Those who worked hard for it, use it with discretion.

Leaders must establish mutual trust with one another and with those they serve. Vince Lombardi said: “Individual commitment to a group effort — that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.”

True leadership is not simply a title.

In the previous column, we discussed the wonderful relationships that develop when there is mutual respect and admiration, regardless of party affiliation, among elected officials. The passion, dedication and commitment to excellence is a driving force, as we all strive to deliver the results our community expects. For most of us, it is a calling.

When working for the public good, we must exercise our best judgment when performing our duties. We all have rules and regulations that we must follow in our professional positions, yet we must also use intelligence, compassion and common sense in the implementation of our responsibilities. In law enforcement, we must continually balance heart and head decisions because most of our work is intensely personal to the ones with whom we interact, and our moral compass becomes a guiding light.

In the Sheriff’s Office, we abide by the law. We also acknowledge that things happen which may cause a person to miscalculate or overreact to a situation, which may be totally out of character, causing a possible infraction of the law. Our deputies are highly trained to use their best judgment in each case, not to give preferential treatment to some over others, but to consider the greater picture of any situation. We also select people whose temperament is well-suited for analyzing complex issues under duress.

As an example, there is a difference between someone who is speeding for fun or trying to get to the emergency room. Or if someone is causing a public disturbance and is acting out. Normally, for the peace of the community, we could remove them from the scene by arresting them. It is the lawful thing to do. But, as part of a close-knit community, we might know of extenuating circumstances, such as, they just lost their spouse to cancer and they have no family on which to rely for comfort and direction. Instead of making an arrest, which would do little to resolve the problem, we might consider alternative resolutions such as arranging for them to see a therapist and checking back with them periodically. It’s not jail time and probation, yet it serves the same purpose, but with greater benefit. Technically, we achieved our objective, of keeping the peace, yet we determined a better path to a more permanent solution. As Henry Ford said, “Don’t find fault, find a remedy.”

When we come from a place of wanting to help and improve situations, we seek every method possible to facilitate challenging circumstances. We seek to think outside the box for long-term solutions. When we have a close-knit community of professionals, there is a trust that develops, and the process becomes more efficient. When the focus is on making our community better, the decisions are simple, though not necessarily easier (doing the right thing seldom is).

The “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” mentality is something we all strive for in our daily lives. While it is a foundation of our Sheriff’s Office ethos, we recognize its value in all of our interactions.

In a recent discussion with some colleagues, we joked about how easy it is to get petty when confronted with conflict. Often, it is simply a misunderstanding, a miscommunication of ideas or intent, but if it hits us the wrong way, we might overreact. Think about Thanksgiving dinner!

We have all experienced times of tension when we become mean-spirited in our approach to conflict with friends, colleagues or family. Suddenly, every minute detail becomes a major event. We get defensive and begin looking for the tiniest infraction and build it up to solidify our position. We might go back decades to some long-forgotten issue that might justify our sense of righteousness. At that point, we are not looking for solutions, we are seeking revenge. Those are the disputes that destroy relationships.

In my job, I have the privilege of interacting with a vastly diverse group of people, and I can say that when it comes to human interactions, we are all pretty much the same. This column is to share not only our professional commitment to you but to also encourage us all to remember how important we are to one another.

James van Beek is the Eagle County Sheriff. You can reach him at

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