I had a sheriff so bad that he thought locking protestors up in chicken wire enclosures was a good idea. But what does a good Democratic Sheriff look like? It took a whole campaign to find a great candidate and work out the words, but it is awesome.
A great mission statement (pdf) includes protection of civil rights:
To provide law enforcement, detention, and court services to preserve, protect, and defend people and property, while respecting the rights and dignity of all persons;A great mission statement also includes fairness:
To provide fair and impartial treatment to all persons regardless of race, color, gender, age, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, political persuasion, physical or mental ability, economic status or place of residence.
I am an advocate for the Democratic party getting involved in all local races, especially Sheriff races. Policing is one of the most basic government services that people experience. If policing is done well and with respect, then government is perceived as good. For too long, we have ceded this office to Republicans with disastrous results. We left the office alone for so long, that no one even had language models for what a Democratic candidate for sheriff says.
Ramsey County Sheriff Matt Bostrom was elected in 2008 against a 4 term incumbent sheriff. This year he is up for re-election with no opposition. His words and his actions have served as a model throughout the state of Minnesota. Even the extremely conservative sheriffs have changed some policies. My goal here is to bring those same policies and actions to a wider universe.
So what makes a Sheriff candidate a good Democratic candidate? How do you know? What does he or she say?
1) A good Democratic candidate advocates for civil rights. Republicans believe that law enforcement should treat the accused as if they were convicted. Republicans constantly advocate for violating the civil rights of anyone not Republican.
In our local screening questionnaire, we had the question, "Describe what you have done in a law enforcement role to promote civil rights."Here is what Sheriff Matt Bostrom answered:
Civil rights embody our country’s core values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is the role of law enforcement to provide the safety necessary for people to pursue those inalienable rights. These rights should be available to all, regardless of a person’s economic status, race, cultural identity, or circumstances. People should be treated with courtesy and respect.
While no one will ever rate a jail experience with a four star hotel (humor), the Ramsey County Sheriff's office ensures that everyone is kept safe. This includes careful health monitoring and welfare checks. Food is provided that does not violate religious or ethical beliefs. Within boundaries of safety, cultural preferences are respected. For example, head coverings are available on request. Good communication practices account for native language, culture, physical disability and mental disability. When law enforcement acts with courtesy and respect, everyone benefits and the respect for law increases.
Part of the oath of law enforcement is to protect the constitutional freedoms including the freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly. I take oaths very seriously. Embodied in freedom of speech is the concept that every person has value, every person has a voice, and every person deserves to be heard. In every public event where the Sheriff's office participates, it our role to come along side to ensure that free speech is protected.
2) A good Democratic sheriff believes in being OF the community, not imposing force upon the community. This is a strong tradition of community policing rather than militaristic policing.
A community policing force can be easily distinguished by large number of meetings with the community. Every year, Sheriff Matt Bostrom reports to and meets with every city council within the county. Through fair booths, parades and safety presentations the Sheriff's office interacts with the public on concerns. Whenever there is an law enforcement issue, there are many joint meetings of the community and the police. Sheriff Matt Bostrom is also a candidate that puts listening ahead of speaking. There is a strong local tradition of listening sessions.
When the community policing is first implemented, the crime numbers go up because people report crimes that they never reported before because of a lack of trust. As people cooperate more, the crime numbers go permanently down. Contrast this with the Republican show of uniforms and cars where crime simply shifts away from the high visibility.
In my local city, the tradition of community policing is strong. It really looks different because people actually casually greet and talk to law enforcement. Consequently, locally we did not have to explain community policing as you might where the concept is new. More info is in a longer article here.
At the top of literature being put on all the doors was the first important bullet point:
• Providing safety through community policing3) Community policing also extends to working well with other agencies. This is the opposite of the "lone ranger" concept that Republicans tend to promote.
In the Matt Bostrom version of community policy, the words of "working together", "collaboration" and "along side" are used to work with other agencies. Working together also means that resources are shared meaning with less cost to the community. I have seen crisis preparedness practices with as many as 7 agencies working together.
Sheriff Matt Bostrom describing community policing in a questionnaire:
The Saint Paul Police Department is nationally known for community policing, which is a strong partnership between the Saint Paul police officers and the community, working together to solve problems. Part of community policing is building trusting relationships within the community and other law enforcement agencies. Community policing is further built upon strong collaborative relationships between multiple agencies. I will bring these concepts of community policing and collaboration to the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department and will strive to make it one of the finest public safety agencies in the State of Minnesota.Also on the literature being put on all the doors includes this bullet point:
• Collaborating with public safety, community, and justice partners4) In community policing, there is a great emphasis in education and training of the community.
There are emergency preparedness meetings, crime watch neighborhood groups, block parties, and safety trainings. Indeed this education piece is almost totally missing from the Republican policing policy.
Gun training is the one class usually provided in the Republican universe. Even that changes under Democratic policing leadership because knowing how to shoot a gun also means how to store it safely, how to carry it so it cannot be noticed or taken away, and how to ensure that is kept in clean safe operating condition. Also Democratic sheriffs also provide training in many non-gun ways of ensuring one is safe.
When Sheriff Matt Bostrom implements programs, he also implements measurements. Based on service calls, the education for crime free housing greatly reduced calls for service. From Sheriff Bostrom's latest budget report to Ramsey County (pdf) , which includes much more detail:
Crime Free Multi-Housing – Crime Free Multi-Housing is a cooperative program between the management of our high density housing areas and the Sheriff’s Office. Through management training, premise surveys, tenant participation, and a lease addendum that spells out acceptable behavior, this program provides an avenue for management to identify and respond to criminal behavior. This program also attracts responsible tenants through lower crime rates and active management. In 2005 the unit began incorporating CFMH in four Manufactured Home Communities. Before the incorporation of the program calls for service were excessive and the living conditions were poor. By working with the park managers and supporting their efforts to create safer communities the results were staggering.5) A good Democratic sheriff separates the law offending community into three groups that are treated differently. Interestingly, the effectiveness of this policy shows up in real numbers.
5A) There are the 7% that commit 70% of the crimes that are pursued with the best efforts for maximum incarceration. Extra effort is done to build an air tight case. The warrants for these crimes are given priority. Egregious cold cases are opened and re-examined. Good standard best practices work well in court. In Republican policy, a girlfriend of a drug dealer would get a life sentence while the actual drug dealer gets a no-jail plea deal for providing testimony and information. In the Republican policy, the drug dealer goes back to hurting the community, while we pay to incarcerate the mostly harmless girlfriend.
5B) Many first-time law offenders can be diverted into programs that send them back into productively working within the community. This is the opposite of the lock-them-all-up Republican philosophy that Republicans especially like to apply to communities of color. White privilege has always provided leniency for white first-time offenders, who are not from the poorest communities.
In Ramsey county, the County Attorney worked together with law enforcement to reduce the number of youths of color detained from 1540 in 2008 to 700 in 2012. Children involved in sex crimes are treated as victims rather than offenders.
Law enforcement has found in general that warnings work better than fines for first-time safety issues. With a warning, people walk away intending to change instead of just being angry.
These policies help in every way. People go back to communities and families. Incarceration costs are down.
5C) The group that is not first time and not the worst offenders gets handled in many different ways. Mental illness has become a crime issue instead of treatment issue. Veterans have specific PTSD issues that are still a problem decades later. A good sheriff partners with the community to get as much help as possible. The justice system and incarceration has to be used when no other options are available.
6) Good Democratic Sheriffs hire for character not resume or experience. Since officers are basically hired for life, training is not the issue, character is the issue. Character cannot be fixed. Training is easily provided.
Here is Sheriff Matt Bostrom's answer on a questionnaire about his most solution to a law enforcement problem:
In exploring the possible solutions to racial profiling concerns, community members participated in brainstorming workshops which helped us to identify 15 ideal characteristics of a law enforcement officer. The core belief of those involved in the workshops was that law enforcement officers with these ideal characteristics would not participate in racial profiling; they would take action to prevent or stop it from occurring. This study has resulted in refining our recruitment, selection, and training processes. Character has become the key criteria for hiring. I believe that law enforcement can reinforce character and train for competence; not the other way around. Since implementation, there has been an increased level of trust from the community and a decline in the number of lawsuits.
7) A good Democratic law enforcement officer does not change the enforcement of laws. Sheriff Matt Bostrom goes one step further in that he that he does not what to comment on what laws should be. He only wants to comment on operational effectiveness. So his comment about legalizing marijuana was to ask how law enforcement would handle drivers under the influence of marijuana.
Sheriff Matt Bostrom said in a questionnaire:
I believe that my role as a professional law enforcement office is to NOT comment or use my personal opinion to shape current issues, especially when those issues are not directly related to law enforcement. Democracy is best served when law enforcement is perceived as neutral. Each member of our community should be able to feel that they may safely present their message - no matter the issues. So you will note the absence of my commentary on the issues of the moment.Conclusion
Sheriff Matt Bostrom was elected against all odds with these ideals. Indeed he has become very popular. At the local DFL booth, Bostrom bumber stickers were the most requested by far. So do pursue electing local sheriffs with a progressively Democratic philosophy.