The Coming Year in Sheriffs
December 30, 2022
Truth be told, I was going to write something brilliant about 2022 and how sheriff involvement in politics, policing, and the “culture wars” has only increased. Then life, or rather my book on sheriffs, got in the way. So instead I will offer a few half-formed predictions as to what we’ll see in the coming year. I, for one, am already dreading what will happen now that the Democratic administration has opted to pour money into policing and the Republicans are about to take over the House. So here’s what I think people worried about the law-enforcement-industrial complex should be concerned about:
1) Sheriffs, riding on their popularity, are going to enter other political races in greater numbers.
This doesn’t really count as a trend as it’s been happening since “Hanging Judge” Roy Bean went to live with his brother, New Mexico Sheriff Sam Beam, to terrorize Native people and Mexicans (and later help the Confederate army). Once I reported in a county where two judges, the prosecutor, and the sheriff were all related. Next week, ex-sheriff (and Republican) Joe Lombardo will be sworn in as the Governor of Nevada. It’s not clear to me how he will govern. Perhaps we can also look to ex-sheriff Troy Nehls, now serving in the House. Nehls wrote an entire book about election fraud, with himself on the cover pretending to enforce “law and order.” And, of course, will Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb run for Senate?
2) Sheriffs, using their position as messengers of “the people,” will become more involved in the backlash against public education.
I wrote earlier this year about sheriffs who are stumping for Moms for Liberty candidates and have called for laws that would make it easier to arrest librarians. All of this is facilitated by the fact that sheriffs are already involved in most schools because they typically run school “resource officer” programs. Since the Uvalde shooting, sheriffs’ agencies have stepped up their “active shooter” training and have advocated for more police in schools – despite the lack of evidence showing that police in schools deter active shooters. In addition, we have Wayne Ivey of Florida calling for harsher punishment for children, another move contrary to everything experts who actually deal with kids have been saying for decades. Is this all because the kids are too woke?
3) More money for sheriffs. Seems fine.
Democrats (and The New York Times) have fallen prey to the narrative that police are suffering from a lack of morale. The best way to fix that is more money! Of course. From The New York Times:
The bill includes more than $770 million for federal law enforcement grants issued to local governments, an increase of more than $96 million. Another $324 million can be used to hire 1,800 law enforcement officers across the nation.
Mr. Biden has argued that investing in police departments is crucial to reforming them. As a result, Congress also increased funding for Justice Department grants focused on community policing and de-escalation strategies to $231 million, a 15 percent jump.
The spending package did not include legislation that would have ended longstanding racial disparities in federal prison sentences for drug possession, which the House passed overwhelmingly last year. That could fuel criticism from criminal justice advocates, who have increasingly accused Mr. Biden of neglecting promises to reform the police and criminal justice systems.
Note that there is nothing in these provisions to prevent money from going to departments associated with the far right. (While taking federal money does generally require abiding by federal regulations, I have seen scuttlebutt indicating that some sheriffs will not take the funding if it means agreeing to not use chokeholds. Also seems fine!)
I suppose the money is intended to mollify police and sheriffs who think that they are hemorrhaging officers. We can expect more panic over the fact that law enforcement agencies claim to be understaffed and sad because nobody likes the police anymore. Honestly, I wish the Times would stop writing these stories. Have we learned nothing?
4) What happened to “demilitarizing the police”?
Remember when there was a movement to stop law enforcement from getting tanks and machine guns? I do, too. Trump rolled back the provisions that limited access to 1033 military equipment (leading to guys like this one) and…no one has done anything to limit the sale of equipment? Remember the good old days when progressives thought waging war on the populace was bad? Tanks in the streets during protests? Did we just…give up?
5) Democracy is saved! Sort of.
I wrote a lot this year about sheriffs and their fight to make elections less democratic. Leading up to the midterms, I was asked for my predictions — which were that I certainly hoped there was no open warfare. As it turns out, there was no civil war, just Kari Lake doing whatever she’s still doing in her corner. While many on the far-right are still trumpeting election denialism and trying to hand count votes – Dar Leaf is still investigating, he told me – “ProtectAmerica.Vote” is no longer operational. Democrats are already saying that this means the progressives won.
I would argue this is a typical shift in tactics. Look, being outwardly racist and bizarre isn’t cool, even if you are on the far-right. The GOP knows that you won’t get elected with that kind of press. Isn’t it wiser just to pass a lot of laws making it harder for people to vote? No one will notice if (the right) folks get arrested, right? RIGHT?