How Sheriffs Block Police "Reform," the National Sheriffs' Association
The separate but equal groups of law enforcement
Booth selling embossed “punisher” coins at the NSA Conference.
Last week, NBC reported that the National Sheriffs’ Association was blocking federal police reforms. According to the article, Republicans are refusing to agree to any police reforms without the approval of the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA). And, of course, the NSA is refusing to play ball.
According to the article:
Law enforcement are represented by different groups — the sheriffs, who cover most rural areas, have their organization, and urban police are divided, the unionized officers represented by one organization and police chiefs by another. And instead of unifying, the negotiations over reforms have left the police and the sheriffs feuding.
I love a good police versus sheriff smackdown. In this case, the negotiations between legislators in favor of police reform and those who are cow-towing to the police unions and sheriffs appear ready to break down, making compromise impossible. And it won’t surprise anyone that the sheriffs are the ones who refuse to compromise. Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina has “demanded that any deal receive the support of the National Sheriffs' Association, the largest sheriffs group, two sources familiar with the negotiations said.” Lindsay Graham, also of South Carolina, echoed the sentiment.
(All the more ironic that the congresspeople cited — both from South Carolina — are from a state where sheriffs have engaged in a record amount of misconduct.)
Also, for the laughs, even the Executive Director of the Fraternal Order of Police has nothing good to say about sheriffs. He told the NYT:
In a knock on the National Sheriffs’ Association, Mr. Pasco added that the group “is often upset, and sometimes it is difficult to ascertain the exact reason for it.”
It won’t be a surprise to hear that the sheriffs want nothing to do with any compromise.
The sheriffs' association immediately rejected the compromise. Sheriffs, who are usually elected or appointed, were furious at the prospect of their offices being held responsible for misbehaving individual officers.
The sheriffs launched an opposition campaign, trying to mobilize their members across the country to voice opposition.
So, let’s break this down. There are many things to consider here, including the history of sheriffs and their uneasy stance towards reform. But this installment will look specifically at the NSA and how it blocks reform.
The NSA held its annual conference in Phoenix last month, which was a multi-day extravaganza filled with vendors, a live horse, and lots to talk about “border security.” Interestingly, there’s no specific statement on the NSA website anywhere about federal police reform. Whether this was the topic of closed-door sessions, I am not sure.
The current NSA President, Ohio Sheriff Vernon Stanforth, has set a much more anti-progressive agenda than his predecessor Sheriff David Mahoney — who actually came out against 287(g) agreements, which allow sheriffs to act as immigration enforcement, and has retired from his role as sheriff of Dane County, Wisconsin (the county of my birth, for a bit of trivia).
Vernon Stanforth has instead spent his time railing against Vice President Kamala Harris for “ignoring” the border. He spoke in the most inflammatory rhetoric available:
"We respectfully ask, please talk to residents terrorized by human traffickers and cartel members," NSA President Vernon Stanforth said in a statement. "Talk to local sheriffs who retrieve the dead bodies of migrants from the river bottoms and the desolate deserts. Please listen to the young women being trafficked and assaulted by the criminal cartels and smugglers and act immediately with us to fix our border challenges."
Two additional tidbits on Stanforth. First, he just built a new jail where, he says, he “might as well” help people with their mental health and substance use.
Second, there’s the death of Mackenzie Branham, an 8-year-old who died in what investigators say was an intentional fire in 2006. Her father says that Stanforth, as sheriff, botched the arson investigation and destroyed evidence. No one has ever been arrested. The sheriff denies wrongdoing. But, of course, how will anyone ever know? (Sheriffs have screwed up big investigations before…)
The NSA also just elected new members of its executive committee. And one of the new Executive Board members is Oklahoma Sheriff Chris West, who was definitely at January 6 but says he didn’t do anything other than attend Trump’s rally. (There were various unsubstantiated rumors that he was inside the capital, but no confirmation.) so much for the NSA’s prior claims about its commitment to “rooting out domestic extremists” (which were made by past president Sheriff Mahoney).
A few other Executive Committee highlights:
Sheriff Kieran Donahue of Idaho is being investigated for misusing county resources for his “Man Up” charity and is known for being difficult to deal with. (Does not work well with others.)
Sheriff Mark Cage of New Mexico is a big NRA supporter and has opposed all forms of gun control, even going so far as to say he would directly oppose any federal gun control.
Is the new direction of the NSA being led by its Arpaio-like members? While the NSA didn’t directly endorse Trump, many law enforcement groups did, including the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association. The NSA’s endorsement of Trump was tacitly implied, but now the group’s attacks on the Biden administration seem more overt.