Summit County Sheriff nationally recognized for his approach to law enforcement
When Justin Martinez took over as Summit County sheriff in 2015, he vowed to implement a more community-centric and holistic approach to law enforcement, with an emphasis on engagement.
Martinez encouraged his deputies to focus more on serving and protecting versus protecting and serving. He said there has been a shift over the years that has led to less emphasis within law enforcement on servitude.
Not that he feels protection should be less valuable, but he wants serving the community to be the main objective of his office.
“We are here to serve the citizens and I want us to be approachable,” he said. “I want to humanize our deputies. I want our community to know that we truly care.”
Martinez’s philosophy inspired Lt. Andrew Wright to nominate him for the 2018 National MAGNUS Princeps Award. Martinez was notified in late June that he was among 70 chiefs or sheriffs out of 365 to receive recognition. The MAGNUS Princeps Award recognizes leaders in law enforcement for their role in implementing “bold initiatives and creating synergy and trust” between the community and their agencies.
“Unequivocally this award is an affirmation of the changes that we are making at the Sheriff’s Office,” Martinez said. “It’s one thing to let people know you have a vision and to have citizen and department buy-in. But, to have an independent national organization recognize the changes that we are making in Summit County is an affirmation of the good things we are doing.”
Martinez described his holistic approach as creating a more personable interaction with the public. He said the standard practice for many years was to take a report, give someone a case number and then clear the scene. He said it was very myopic with little follow up.
Martinez has now instructed his deputies to use their first name, start a conversation and let people know they are being heard, especially when they are victims of a crime. He allows his deputies to wear a traditional uniform or nice shirts that still identify them as officers.
“It allows people to approach us in a manner that is not so focused on this perception of, ‘Oh we are here to arrest you,’” he said.
Martinez emphasized that his office has a responsibility to enforce the law. But, he said, that does not have to result in a lack of respect. His deputies are told to treat residents as if they were family members, even if they violated the law.
“We are fathers and mothers with children and parents,” he said. “I tell them to act as if it’s your mother, your father or your child. We treat everyone with respect.”
Since he has taken office, Martinez said he has received numerous calls and letters from people commending his approach. He said it further reaffirms the direction he is taking his department.
Chief Deputy Frank Smith said he has heard the impact Martinez’s philosophy has had on the community. He said more people are willing to cooperate and reach out to the office with tips or requests for help.
Wright agreed. He said he has seen both sides of what law enforcement can be and previous officials have taken a different approach. But, his personal ideology has always been to take a more engaging approach, which is why he considers himself one of Martinez’ biggest champions.
“Human engagement and that real leading-from-the-heart type of mentality aligns with Justin’s vision and his approach,” he said. “It’s easy to grab hold of that and to champion that more approachable side where you are very integrated with the community so they feel like they can approach us.”
Martinez credited the award to those who serve under him. He said the men and women of his office are implementing his vision and actively engaging the community. He highlighted their willingness to be a part of this paradigm shift.
“Ultimately, it’s very humbling to know that there were hundreds of applicants and I was one of a few who received this award,” he said. “I am very honored, but I share this award with the entire Summit County Sheriff’s Office.”
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