Letter to editor: Public Safety is not a Circus Act and Citizens are not Circus Animals

Editor’s note: this letter also was running as an ad in the Feb. 2 edition of the Pahrump Valley Times.

“At a circus, the lion tamer is in the ring before the lions enter. The reason is to establish dominance. As law enforcement officers, we are the lion tamers and we must establish dominance.” (Sheriff Wehrly, PV Times, January 19, 2018)

In my 41 years of experience in public safety, I have never heard law enforcement professionals compare their policing agency to lion tamers and demean – equate the public to animals, which was indicated by Nye County Sheriff Sharon Wehrly in her speech to the new deputies.

In fact, never in my training and never in my instructional experience training over 1,500 public safety professionals did I ever use the word “dominance” or heard any instructors use that word to interact with the public, whether suspects or victims. In fact, the word “dominance” is not even mentioned in the “Police Use of Force Continuum.”

While I have been the subject of disparaging and untrue comments by the current sheriff and members of her staff, I have not responded. However, the sheriff is sending new deputies out into the public and conveying to present deputies the wrong method of how to treat citizens of Nye County. This does not only affect me, but all of us, and this cannot go unchallenged.

Maybe the sheriff’s inappropriate, unprofessional, and demeaning attitude toward the public explains the behavior of the Nye County Sheriff’s Office (NCSO) in Tonopah. At last year’s Jim Butler Days, the conduct of the NCSO was described by Jim Marsh in a letter to the editor “as a posse of officers that resembled a group of Russian stormtroopers.”

Jim Butler Days is a celebration of Tonopah’s founder, like the Fall Festival in Pahrump and Beatty Days, a time of fun and celebration, highlighting the pride the citizens have for their communities.

The NCSO’s policing strategy in Tonopah, as reported in the PV Times on July 14,2017, had residents afraid to leave their homes for fear anything they did would lead to an arrest. The NCSO’s negative impact had vendors vowing never to return. A call for a cancellation of Jim Butler Days, because of “over-intimidation” a word used to characterize the behavior of NCSO deputies, with the approval of the sheriff. Is this now Sheriff Wehrly’s community relations policy, “oppress and dominate?”

There are many nationally reported stories of the public’s belief that there is a police culture that leads to over-reliance toward violence. Is that the culture the current sheriff subscribes to, “we are animals that need a trainer and have to be dominated?” Apparently, the sheriff is not aware that “dominance is the contributing cause of violence.”

As sheriff for 12 years, I made sure public safety needs were met; we did not have any issues in policing with the community needs and public safety in balance, crime rates were significantly reduced to record lows. Also, we never had any issues with community events in Nye County.

The speech given by the sheriff, during the recent graduation, as reported in the PV Times on January 19, 2018, indicates an “Us against Them” policy. Also, that members of the NCSO should exhibit dominance to the public at all times. This cannot be, and should not be, the status quo of any public safety entity.

The sheriff is hired by the people to administrate the office for the people.

My first day after being sworn in as a police officer on February 5 1973, the Police Academy director addressed us by saying the following: “Not the badge you have been given, not the Mayor of Jersey City, City Council, the Governor of New Jersey nor the President of the United States give you the empowerment to do your job,” it is the public you serve, they empower you. It was here in training we learned of Sir Robert Peel’s principles of policing.

In the book, “History of The Police Department of Jersey City”, covering the years 1652 to 1891, The School of Instruction, page 369, quoting from the book, a question is asked: “What relation does a Police Officer bear to the community in which he lives? The answer: He is a servant of the people from whom emanates (originates) the power that creates him; therefore, every good citizen should receive at his hands protection and kind treatment.”

Instead of this broad-brush dominance, aggressive, demeaning style of policing fostered by the current sheriff where members of the NCSO are lion tamers and the public is characterized as “circus animals” to be controlled by “whip, chair and a gun.”

Sir Robert Peel, “The Founder of Modern Policing,” developed nine principles of policing. I will quote two of them which I believe are relevant in my response to the sheriff’s speech and are in contrast to her position on effective policing and conduct to the public.

Principle 2: “The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions.”

Principle 7: “Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.” (http://www.lacp.org/2009-Articles-Main/062609-Peels9Principals-SandyNazemi.htm)

To the members of the Sheriff’s Office: Neither the sheriff or any other government official empowers you, it is us, the citizens of Nye County.

To those serving in the NCSO: “Protect and Serve, Be Alert and Stay Alive.”

— Tony DeMeo, Nye County Sheriff, retired

(Tony DeMeo has informed the Pahrump Valley Times that he is not running for sheriff in 2018.)