From this corner, Steve King is the best candidate for sheriff
Generally, I don’t take a public position on candidates during primary season. I find people often are more personally invested in candidates during primaries and can allow hard feelings, rather than closing ranks, to dominate after the results.
The Mesa County sheriff’s race, however, is one I’ve been asked about more than any other and highlights issues beyond personalities, so I think it’s important to comment.
The office of a western sheriff is unique. It’s derived from laws and times when the sheriff may not only have been the only law enforcement in an area but one of the few public officials — period.
Therefore, the office was imbued with great power to deal with multiple public safety roles. The sheriff controls not only countywide non-municipal law enforcement, but runs the only jail, organizes and directs search and rescue, and provides courthouse security and wildland firefighting. Statutorily, the sheriff has the authority not only to execute state laws and county ordinances but also municipal ordinances, should he choose to do so. Municipal agencies on the Western Slope mainly serve only one of these tasks — patrol and investigative law enforcement.
The running of a jail is a considerable task that is often as complicated as patrol services. Providing oversight for several hundred inmates including security from one another and protecting the public, feeding and clothing them and transporting them to court appearances, doctors’ offices and so forth is a substantial undertaking — especially when most of the folks one deals with have little to do except be a problem, try to get away or sue the sheriff.
This, by the way, is another difference with a municipal police chief, since by statute in Colorado, the sheriff is personally liable for the actions of his deputies.
For all this trouble, sheriffs’ salaries are usually set substantially below those of chiefs of medium-to-large police forces. For that, the sheriff provides services to twice the population and many times the square miles.
Against this setting we have two individuals vying for the Republican nomination: former police officer, sheriff’s deputy and state senator Steve King and local citizen John Pennington. As a longtime friend of King, I’m certain my judgment is colored by that friendship.
I don’t know a lot about Pennington; however, he seems a man who has served his country, is concerned about the direction it is moving and is looking for a way to serve yet again. His candidacy and supporters have raised important questions about the relationship of the federal government to state and local issues and highlighted a growing unease among many in the population over perceived militarization of law enforcement.
It’s true that as the only elected direct law enforcement position in the state, the sheriff serves as a primary protector of citizens’ constitutional liberties. However, as I’ve said many times, those in government positions must perform their primary functions first and the sheriff’s primary function is to protect the public from crime within the framework of that Constitution.
Without freedom from fear of criminal activity, the exercise of other constitutional and natural rights is nearly impossible.
This is the first constitutional responsibility of the sheriff, and if it is not performed adequately, any other endeavors pale to insignificance.
One issue some highlight is a bill carried by King addressing law enforcement powers and federal officers, which they fear will result in enlarged federal intrusion into the area. This is not really the case, although it’s an understandable interpretation.
In the past, federal officers were neither fish nor fowl in relation to the state’s justice system. Statutorily mandating them a place in that structure allows some input by state and local officials into some of their activities, as well as allowing federal investigations, which don’t result in the discovery of federal offenses, to be coordinated with state prosecutors.
Experience, or lack of it, is not the only predictor of success in a position, but it is helpful. I don’t know that other candidates can’t do the job of sheriff, but I know that King can. For me, it’s the difference between knowing and hoping.
Rick Wagner writes more about politics on his blog, The War on Wrong.