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As Long as We Remember...

June 19, 2007

To Pay and To Protect.

Farrell Keough

Much ado about nothing. Well, sort of. The change in the Frederick County Sheriff Office with respect to off-duty officers hit the fan last weekend. I guess it was a slow news day or someone wanted to stir up trouble.

The change, which is a simple mechanism of payment for service, charged up the radio waves as well as the chatter on the internet.

Some folks felt it was a mean-spirited act; some felt it was hypocritical; some even spewed a less than ethical motive. Not buying that "pig in a poke." This is simply payment for service and to make it out to be a bigger issue is pushing the envelope. But, I digress. Let's explore some of the underlying aspects first.

I tried to talk to Sheriff "Chuck" Jenkins, but was unable to reach him. My guess is Father's Day took precedence over this non-issue. I personally can't blame him for that. I had a great time with my family and should have simply kept my focus there - but, hey, when I see these crazy things happening, I gotta chime in.

Now, I need to say from the start, I know Sheriff Jenkins. I set up a debate between him and his challenger Charles I. Tobery, Jr., during the last election.

Since that time, I have kept up with Sheriff Jenkins from the outside; reading articles, going to presentations, the odd email. I cannot say we are golfing buddies, but I do like and respect the man. In other words, yeah, I'm biased on this one.

Finally, I spoke with others in the profession to get a better perspective. I'm not gonna name names. These are my friends. Please feel free to go and get your own. I have never been in law enforcement, nor has anyone in my family. I asked others because I have no direct experience of my own.

It seems that a few of the deputies with the Frederick County Sheriff Office work part-time guarding local businesses. This is a good thing. Why do they do it?

Well, to pay the mortgage on that third home they purchased at the beach, to buy that formal diamond pinky ring, to pay for. wait a minute! Are you buying this? If so, you probably need to stop reading this article now. Otherwise, here a few points:

  1. It obviously provides higher visibility. This seems to be rather self-evident, so I will not go into this further.

  2. There is no doubt from the public who the deputy is and what they are doing at the business. With undercover policing, it is not obvious to the run-of-the-mill Joe just who the person may be: a crook or a good guy.

  3. It allows deputies on duty to concentrate on other calls and not just the hot spots. This is important and often overlooked in the commentary I read. We are all aware of various areas we consider problematic, but this profession "knows" the multiple locations that need regular patrols.

  4. Finally, one of my friends noted a perspective that never even entered my mind. "It is very difficult for a marriage to have one spouse working shift work and one working a regular 9-5 [job]. It is a difficult schedule. Quite a few officers work two or three jobs in order for their [spouse] to stay home to raise the children." This is truly a remarkable distinction of our law enforcement personnel and their families! Not only are they interested in our well-being by putting their lives on the line, but they do that while ensuring their own families are well cared for.

From everything I understand there is no plan to discontinue this service. That is why all the hubbub is simply foolishness to me. All that is being requested is a small payment on top of what the deputy will receive for the services rendered to a private business. How that is to be paid, (by the deputy or directly by the business) is not apparent to me at this time.

This is worthy for two reasons in my mind; financial and perceptual obligation. In other words, this profession is different from others that can perform similar duties both on the job and off duty.

I worked for a computer development company that had a Microsoft Publication purchase. This meant that employees could legally take home some of the development tools. Many employees took advantage of this situation and did side work for other businesses. Similar to using the county vehicles, these employees used the tools supplied by the business.

But, two big differences exist: tax dollars did not pay for these tools and these developers did not have firepower or the ability to detain people for crimes.

Unlike other businesses, law enforcement carries a responsibility above that of the common working Joe. To that end, there must remain a distinction made between the entire tax-paying public enjoying the protection of these deputies and those businesses which derive a private benefit. One way to keep those lines of distinction clear is applying a cost. The amount suggested by Sheriff Jenkins is nominal. It is very unlikely that this will drive businesses away.

It is also a meaningful mechanism to keep that separation intact. That it wasn't done in the past and now will be implemented, has no bearing on whether this approach is right or wrong; many things that were done in the past are now considered wrong or carry a perceptual conflict.

We all complain that our tax dollars are used inappropriately or that one group or another gets a benefit we are not receiving. This is a meaningful and worthy change to an old system that rides the line of perceptual ethics. It is not wrong, but can be misconstrued and our law enforcement agencies and employees must always remain above reproach.

I applaud Sheriff Jenkins for taking this stand and putting up with the rigorous bashing he is receiving.

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