Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Monday, February 21, 2005

The Incumbent (Sheriff) Protection Act of 2005

On Monday, February 21, 2005, The Spokesman Review ran an article headlined Sheriff's bill triggers debate.

The bill is sponsored by the Idaho Sheriff's Association. If passed, it would amend section 34-618, Idaho Code, to provide that when a county deputy sheriff or jailer has filed a declaration of candidacy for the position of county sheriff in the same county where he or she is employed as a county deputy sheriff or jailer and where the county sheriff has filed his or her declaration of candidacy for reelection to the position of county sheriff, the county deputy sheriff or jailer shall take a leave of absence from his or her county position on the day following the last day to declare candidacy and to provide for reinstatement after the primary or general election when the person is no longer a candidate for the office against an incumbent sheriff.

This amendment, along with its Statement of Purpose/Fiscal Impact, is available on the State of Idaho website.

The Statement of Purpose has some arguments that appear valid but fail upon closer examination. The first statement, "Police agencies are quasi-military organizations," does not explain "quasi-military" nor show its relevance in support of the proposition.

Perhaps the second statement, "When a deputy sheriff runs against the sheriff who is running for re-election, discipline, confidentiality, confidence and trust break down dramatically," is intended to bolster the first. But it would be equally valid for a prospective candidate to argue that failing to address existing breakdowns in discipline, confidentiality, confidence and trust is precisely the underlying reason for replacing the incumbent sheriff. Thus, it seems that the Idaho Sheriff's Association members could use the proposed amendment to stifle public disclosure of serious internal problems. The Idaho Sheriff's Association is right on one count: A deputy or jailer still "on the inside" is in a much better position than one on the outside to expose incompetence and corruption. Maybe that's what the Association fears most.

The third statement, "The deputy is in a position to file civil rights
actions against the sheriff for any discipline issued on the theory that the sheriff is engaging in pretextual discipline in order to violate the deputy's free speech rights," however, may really disclose what the Idaho Sheriff's Association also fears. Some internal practices are retaliatory and will not stand up under impartial federal court scrutiny. Unless these illegal practices are occurring, the incumbent sheriff can be helped rather than harmed by such actions. After all, if the federal court rules that the deputy's or jailer's allegation is not only unfounded but frivolous, it dismisses the suit with prejudice and the incumbent sheriff's prospective opponent is discredited.

But this amendment should fail for another reason. It not only gives an unfair advantage to the incumbent sheriff, it gives an outside candidate an advantage over the deputy or jailer as well. The law discriminates unfairly and arbitrarily against employees of the incumbent sheriff's department, because it applies only to those employees, not to outsiders.

And finally, the amendment should fail if any deputy or jailer in any department is prohibited by departmental policy from holding outside employment. By prohibiting outside employment and simultaneously imposing an unpaid leave of absence on a deputy or jailer, the Idaho Sheriff's Association members are using departmental regulations as an economic weapon to stifle internal candidacies. That is inherently unfair.


Blogger Randall Brink said...

Such logical analysis and common sense should have been applied to the consideration of this bill before it saw the light of day.

As many if of not most challenges to incumbent Sheriffs are spawned within the ranks of the departments themselves, this proposal is clearly aimed at thwarting political challengers.

A bad idea; a bad bill.

6:05 PM, February 21, 2005  

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