Polk County and most of its neighbors have escaped the violent conflicts that have swept much of the country in the past few weeks.
Maybe we’ve been lucky; maybe we have a more peaceable ethos; maybe we enjoy a greater appreciation for each other ... black and white, liberal and conservative, law enforcement and layman.
Perhaps it is a little of all these phenomena, a combination of the factors that make us choose this area to make our homes.
Last week, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd spoke to a “virtual meeting” of the Bartow Rotary Club, giving his insight into some of the things that come together to keep peace on the streets in troubled times.
He acknowledged up front that there is “a new environment (in law enforcement) that has zero tolerance for mistakes.” Meeting that standard starts with carefully screening applicants for law enforcement careers, he said.
For every 100 applicants, perhaps 10 pass the rigorous scrutiny for the job, and of those, one or two are likely to discover in their first months on the job that the pressure of a law enforcement career is not for them.
His department has achieved certification in 10 areas, he said. By comparison not a single agency in all of Minnesota has achieved even one.
He tells his deputies, “You have to treat people the way you would like your mother to be treated.”
Comparing local respect for law enforcement with the situation in Seattle, he said: “I would tell the occupiers they could leave or we would move them.” Part of the problem, he said, is that some prosecutors are refusing to bring offenders to trial.
As to use of force by law enforcement officers, he said he trains his deputies that “just because you could doesn’t mean you should.
“Shooting people should never be the first option.”
He offered one piece of advice for people who feel they are being treated unfairly by law enforcement officers:
After the incident is over, complain to their supervisors, complain to the state attorney, complain to the press, he said, but don’t fight.
Judd said he invites feedback from those who disagree with his policies.
“If you’re really my friend, pull me off to the side and tell me,” he said.
He cited one member of his audience “who has been doing that with me since before I was sheriff.”
(S. L. Frisbie is retired. In his 46 years in journalism, he covered police and sheriff’s departments in Tallahassee, Bartow, Fort Meade, and Lake Wales. He often observed that reporters and cops have a lot in common. They share a genuine wish to serve their communities, and they do their jobs by seeking to find the truth and to be fair in the pursuit of their vocation. Or at least the good ones — good cops and good reporters — do.)