Van Beek: Not all heroes wear capes
I am humbled by the quality of the new recruits we have had the good fortune to add to the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office. They are young people who become the superheroes of our community.
When we think of superheroes, we bestow on them attributes that we wish we had. We give them human form, with slight variations that set them apart from others.
During times of stress and feelings of hopelessness, we see a rise in superhero movies. We imagine someone who can come in and make things right again. “Truth, justice, and the American Way” was Superman’s motto.
Yet, in real life, when feeling vulnerable and endangered, where do we turn? We look towards our everyday heroes, those in uniform. On a national scale, they are our military; on a local level, they are our law enforcement. They are our neighbors, friends, and members of the community, who have pledged to protect us, even if it means paying the ultimate price.
As the saying goes, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the determination that something else is more important.”
It’s not just an ordinary job; it requires a commitment to service, a dedication to honor, that few other professions demand. The hours are tough, the pressure is high, the pay is modest, the stress goes from non-existent to the extreme within seconds, and there is always the possibility that you may not make it to the next day.
While those who live in Eagle County are a friendly bunch and law enforcement members value their time connecting to the community, they must still be on high-alert for discrepancies. Mental health issues can cause a normal person to behave in abnormal ways. Drugs can alter a person’s behavior. Stress can create a distortion in priorities, causing some to engage in illegal activities. All of these things can endanger a community and place at risk anyone who attempts to alter their course of action. At any moment, an unexpected act can escalate to a life-threatening situation.
When a person’s outfit for the day includes a bulletproof vest and a gun, things get real in a hurry. Families of law enforcement members are well aware that when their loved one leaves the house, he or she may never return. This can be particularly hard on children.
Considering the risk, who is still open to a career in law enforcement? Those who have “a calling” to do more, be more, and accomplish more, than they ever thought possible. There is a sense of duty to protect those who are unable to protect themselves. A connection to community that runs deep. A passion to do the right thing, against all odds.
How does the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office select potential deputies?
We seek more than skill — we seek passion, honor, integrity, and those with exceptionally high character. Yet, how can those hidden qualities be determined?
We must go beyond the resume. Spend time in a relaxed setting, where conversation flows more easily. Discuss family, school/work, friends, experience … the things that engage us all. It doesn’t take long to uncover true passion and interest.
We must also be aware of how a life in law enforcement will affect a person long-term. The first time they encounter a suicide, a person pointing a gun at them, a child who has been abused … all of these things leave deep and emotional impressions. How easily can this person return to “normal” when their shift is over? How will it affect their personal relationships? What are the long-term implications?
There is also the hidden cost to family. How will they react to an unpredictable schedule that often has the deputy unavailable for holidays, festive gatherings, school events, and other activities? When these things happen frequently enough, it can lead to family issues.
Once it is determined that the person possesses the right personality, dedication, and family support that they need, and they pass the required physical, psychological, and security aspects of the process, then training begins.
It starts with an intense law enforcement academy program that lasts 16 weeks. It’s like a military boot camp. It will weed out the weak and those who simply do not possess the endurance and mindset necessary to meet the demand of the position.
The topics covered include what you would normally expect: Legal statutes, ethics, safety, firearms, search and seizure, combat and defense, driving strategies, physical endurance, and other skills necessary for the wide range of issues a deputy will face while on duty.
Once that is successfully completed, the training then moves to the local office. At the Sheriff’s Office we add another 16+ weeks of detailed training.
Before being assigned to patrol, a deputy spends time in all aspects of law enforcement. We want each deputy to be aware of the greater responsibility of our office, from community engagement to investigations, detention, search and rescue, the operations center, support services, special ops, and many other aspects necessary to successfully accomplish our mission.
It is an honor and a privilege to be of service to those in Eagle County. I couldn’t be prouder of the next generation of new recruits. Please feel free to reach out and welcome them.
James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at email@example.com.