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By Gail Alston, Special to The Star Herald

The Star Herald

I recently had the pleasure of participating in the Cass County Sheriff’s Citizen Academy and discovered there is a story here that needs to be told. Prior to this I had no reason for any interaction with law enforcement, so the whole area was a mystery to me. The program gave me a good opportunity to learn about the operations of the organization, and more importantly to get a feel for the spirit in the men and women who serve the community.

It is an experience that I highly recommend to anyone who wishes to gain an insight into what goes on in our Sheriff’s Office without having to learn the hard way (if you know what I mean). The Citizen’s Academy is hosted by Major Jeff Weber, who is the highest ranking employee in the office, reporting directly to Sheriff Dwight Diehl.

Maj. Weber is very personable and made every effort to ensure that we felt welcome and had a good time. He presents an interesting dichotomy with the side that I saw in contrast to the side enforcing the law which I did not see, but I know is there, in order for him to have reached the position that he has. Maj. Weber arranged for each of the leaders who are responsible for the different areas in the office to give presentations and answer any questions that we asked.

When I realized that the Sheriff had given us an opportunity to meet and interact with highest levels of management in the organization I was very impressed with the importance he places in this program. While it was nice rubbing elbows with the brass, the real insight into an organization’s attitude comes from spending time with the people who get their hands dirty.

Part of the program includes an invitation to sit alongside a dispatcher observing how they respond to calls and how they interact with the deputies in addition to scheduling a ride along with a patrol deputy and spending time with the jail deputies.

What I discovered is an organization that demonstrates the finest qualities in law enforcement that I could ask for. I repeatedly heard a desire to help people and support the community in every way possible and part of this is accomplished by responding to events quickly, professionally and with the skills and tools to restore peace. I found this organization to be very efficient and comprised of an extremely talented group of people who are driven to consistently perform at the high standards set by Sheriff Diehl and Maj. Weber.

I saw an organization where people are expected to grow their skills in specialty areas while at the same time performing traditional roles that provide the foundation of the operations. I met a Sheriff who has established a mindset of cost containment and maximizing the value derived from every dollar received in funding.

As an example, when the Drug Court was discussed we learned that not only does it benefit the participants, but it is also more economical for the county than not having that program. The Sheriff has tapped into creative sources of funding that do not rely on taxes, such as using inmate trustees for work in the jail, developing a Criminal Apprehension Unit and establishing the Traffic Unit.

He is also working on plans to draw from energies of volunteers from the community to extend the productivity of the employees.

My primary motivator for participation in the Sheriff’s Citizen Academy was to meet our local law enforcement and gain an understanding of the character and capabilities of the organization, suspecting that the county’s need for help from the sheriff’s office will be growing.

I have been closely following the economic changes that our country is experiencing and what I have learned is very sobering. I believe that future historians will write about this period of time as a transition similar in magnitude to the Great Depression, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the economic collapse in Argentina in 2001. While I don’t really expect that the US will experience the level of social upheaval that occurred in Eastern Europe or Argentina, this recession is not like the ones that have occurred in the past 70 years.

This time, there is no driver for employment, and our country is shedding jobs at an alarming rate. We have sent our manufacturing overseas and more recently we have been sending the professional work to places like India and Brazil. If we add the probability of rising fuel costs to the conditions, we are poised for a growing number of people living at a poverty level nationwide.

We know that when people are desperate or think that they have nothing to lose, they often make choices that are not conducive to a civilized society. I fear that this country is about to experience a level of social unrest that most of us have not seen in our lifetime. Did the shopkeepers or schoolteachers in Argentina think that their lives would suddenly change and that they would find themselves immersed in social upheaval? Did the families and farmers in Eastern Europe foresee the way that their lives would change, suddenly lacking the social structure that they had known all their lives? For a grim tale of what life was like in Argentina after the collapse, there is a description at this location: If you scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on Part 2 there is a very interesting description of crime and security in the middle of the next page.

With this in mind and considering the increasing level of social turmoil due to the economic conditions, I am hoping that the commissioners will see the wisdom in avoiding any deterioration of the finely tuned law enforcement capabilities that we have in our County Sheriff’s Office. I trust this Sheriff to use county funds in a most responsible manner and if he states that there is a need for increased funds, it means that he truly needs them to maintain the quality organization that he has built.

As we enter into an economic environment that I expect will cause moral decay, we have an opportunity to keep the character of our county like an island of sanity in the surrounding turmoil. On the other hand, if we lose the high level of quality in our Sheriff’s Office by allowing it to be undermined by lack of funding, the mistake won’t be noticed until it is too late. Once it is gone, it is very difficult to rebuild and that would happen at a time when we need them the most.

The men and women who put their lives on the line for us every day have their own families and pressures. Do we really want any of them to be burdened with fears about how they are going to pay their own bills when people’s lives at times hang in the balance of how these individuals respond to the emergencies in the county? They show a remarkable ability to set aside their own needs and desires as they serve the community but do we really want to put them in that position?

One of the drawbacks of being so very good at what they do is that we do not see what would happen without their actions. It reminds me of a story where a man comes home from working all day to find one of his children in the yard, crying over a scraped elbow and dirty from head to toe. The front door is open and when the man walks inside the house he finds juice spilled on the kitchen floor and the dog has knocked over the garbage and is enjoying the contents.

A walk past the laundry room shows another child mixing clean laundry with the dirty articles on the floor and the telephone is ringing unanswered. The man becomes very concerned and wonders what happened to his wife because the house is always in order when he gets home and the children happily run to greet him. He walks upstairs to find his wife calmly reading a book and he asks if she is OK. She responds that she is fine and says that since he often asks her what she does all day she thought that today she would not do it so that he could see.

I don’t want our community to find out the hard way what the members of the Sheriff’s Office do all day and night while we are enjoying the lifestyle that they make possible for us. None of us will like the results if these men and women do not have the tools to do the job or if they lose that motivation as a result of believing that the community does not place a value on what they do for us.

The ability of this organization to consistently perform well is dependent on the heart and soul of the men and women who make up that organization. That level of motivation can only be maintained if the individuals feel like their extraordinary efforts are recognized and appreciated by the community that they serve.

All things considered I do understand that there is a limited amount of funds available and as a resident I truly appreciate the reluctance in our county to place any additional burden on taxpayers. If we do need to make some difficult decisions I am hoping that other residents in the county join me in asking the commissioners to place a very high priority on keeping the superior standards that have been established in the Sheriff’s Office – especially during this period of social change even, if it means sacrificing in other areas.

Readers don’t need to take my word for what I describe in the capabilities in our Sheriff’s Office. I encourage people to take advantage of the programs that are available to the residents and make their own decisions.

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