National Sheriffs’ Association: Good intentions don’t keep communities safe (column)
For the past several years, efforts to change the criminal justice system have become more and more popular while leaving law enforcement officers and communities such as Eagle County less and less safe.
We saw it again recently at the National Law Enforcement Summit in Washington, D.C., where former Obama administration officials and their allies are trying to get President Donald Trump to go back on his commitment to our brave men and women in law enforcement.
The thrust of their efforts, which would end civil asset forfeiture and restructure criminal sentences, seems to come from a place of good intentions.
Unfortunately, for our staff and deputies at the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, good intentions don’t buy bulletproof vests and well-meaning sentiment doesn’t stop an ex-convict from committing more violent crimes.
What’s more, those good intentions don’t make sure the underprivileged kids of Eagle County have a merry Christmas.
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Using funds from civil asset forfeiture, the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office sponsors an annual Shop with a Cop program, where our deputies take a child Christmas shopping, help them wrap what they’ve bought and then provide a hot meal for the family to enjoy.
But the advocates for change, cherry-picking best- and worst-case scenarios to fit their narratives, are far removed from the streets where law enforcement officers serve.
Their hearts might be in the right place, but their heads have never had to face the threats that law enforcement does daily.
While using catchy phrases such as “low-level offender,” Washington’s elite want us to believe that America’s prisons and jails are packed with innocent men and women.
The painful truth is that all too often, a person committing a crime has already been in prison and, in some truly awful cases, the perpetrators should have still been in prison instead of using their early release to spill more blood on the streets and cause more pain for our citizens.
Civil asset forfeiture might sound like a dirty concept in the salons and ballrooms of Washington, D.C., hotels, but the funds local agencies raise from selling the ill-gotten gains of drug dealers are used to buy critical equipment and improve our relationships with the communities we proudly serve.
What would most taxpayers prefer? A drug dealer’s new boat sitting in a junkyard for years or a deputy ensuring a child is able to enjoy Christmas?
The answer should be obvious to every law-abiding citizen in this country, especially when they remember that the drug dealers end up paying for those bulletproof vests instead of the taxpayers.
Our members honor the U.S. Constitution, and we agree with some of the stated goals of these would-be reformers, particularly when it comes to significantly reducing recidivism rates. But misguided changes based on misleading campaigns will only lead to more crime, more blood and more pain.
Recently, as these politicians were gathering in Washington, the FBI reported that 118 law enforcement officers died in the line of duty in 2016. That is a 37 percent increase from 2015, and it should be a wake-up call to the people who have never stood on the front lines against criminals.
To the law enforcement community, our brave brothers and sisters represented by these statistics demand attention and action.
When one of our brothers — a 40-year-old deputy in Mesa County — was shot and killed last February by a 17-year-old under the influence of drugs, you can imagine how angry we were to discover that the shooter was already on probation when he pulled the trigger. If that criminal had still been in prison, then that deputy would still be on patrol.
It is beyond our comprehension how any responsible member of Congress could see these statistics and still make it their priority to further coddle and protect criminals.
We would like to give these advocates the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they don’t know the danger of their policies or the havoc that would result from emptying our prisons and stripping our law enforcement agencies of the equipment they need to do their jobs.
But ignorance is no defense, and good intentions won’t keep our communities or our law enforcement officers safe. Lawmakers would do well to remember this and the people who protect them as they consider reforms that could cost lives.
Jonathan Thompson is the executive director and CEO of the National Sheriffs’ Association.