Tom Clyde: We’re not in Mayberry anymore
There was a candidate debate at Rotary lunch this week. The candidates for County Attorney and those for Sheriff tried to explain why they should earn our votes. We are fortunate to have qualified people running. That’s not always the case, but in both of these races, we have people who are up to the task. So I had hoped that the presentation would shed a little light on things. It mostly didn’t.
The Sheriff’s race is an open seat because the incumbent, Dave Edmunds, has decided not to run again. Justin Martinez, currently second in command at the department is running against Kris Hendricksen, who has worked in other police agencies and teaches at the police academy. Between them, they are the tallest and shortest people on the ballot.
That discussion quickly veered into deep space, and focused on the color of the Sheriff’s department vehicles. It wasn’t all that long ago that the Sheriff’s Department drove around in white Ford pickups. I bought one of them from a surplus auction years ago. It’s got a huge and very thirsty engine, spotlight, and multiple holes drilled into the dash and roof for the assorted police equipment.
Somewhere along the line, the department switched to black SUVs with blacked out windows and the Sheriff logo applied in a matte black finish. The lights are either inside the vehicle, or if there is an external light bar, it is smaller than a ski rack. While the SUV seems a more practical choice than the pickup for transporting somebody to the graybar hotel, the rapper-style paint job seemed a little over the top to a lot of people.
The impression was that we were sending out the SWAT team to respond to every case of aggravated brake light malfunction. My only complaint is that I think traffic enforcement is a lot more effective when the cop on the road is very visible and unmistakable. Seeing a good old-fashioned black and white police car with a big red light bar on the roof tends to slow everybody down for miles in each direction. A well-camouflaged car hidden behind a tree is probably more effective at catching and ticketing one speeder. So it kind of boils down to whether the goal is deterrence (safety) or enforcement (revenue).
A number of color schemes were tossed out in the conversation, from canary yellow to pink. Some members of the audience said the objection to black SUV was that they were always covered with road salt and looked dirty, making them harder to re-sell. It was a strange conversation. Nobody asked about the Sheriff’s navy — including a submarine — parked in a warehouse in Kamas, or what level of drug enforcement on I-80 is the County’s responsibility. The Sheriff does more than traffic enforcement.
The color scheme isn’t the issue. It became the symbol of a different kind of discussion that we don’t want to have around here. If Andy Griffith is a 1, and Clint Eastwood is a 10, where on that scale would these candidates place themselves? We all would prefer the Andy Griffith style of law enforcement, where Andy would sit down at the coffee shop with a troubled member of the community, and the miscreant’s behavior would be fully reformed over a nice slice of pie. And all is well in Mayberry.
Under the Clint Eastwood model, an improper lane change results in "up against the wall," cuffs and drug-sniffing dogs. And everybody is still scared as hell on the South Side of Chicago.
So while I think the majority of Summit County residents would much prefer to have Andy Griffith as Sheriff, that’s largely based on the quaint notion that we are living in Mayberry. Even out in the hinterlands where I live, where the most frequent law enforcement issue is escaped livestock running amok, the world is a lot more complicated than Mayberry. I suspect that even Mayberry was more complicated than Mayberry.
Snyderville has become a mid-sized city by Utah standards, and for reasons I can’t understand, the County seems determined to keep approving more sprawl. It remains to be seen what the Vail take-over does, but it’s safe to assume that visitor numbers won’t be shrinking. We’re a long way from Chicago, but we quit being Mayberry a long time ago.
Deciding on the model and color scheme for new Sheriff’s Department vehicles will be a difficult and delicate decision. For most of us, that’s the only contact we have with the department — the image they project when we see them on the road. There’s one thing we can all agree on. If we get pulled over, we expect the cop to be driving a tasteful, stylish, well-appointed, vehicle. Nobody in Summit County should have to bear the indignity of being ticketed by a cop driving an Impala.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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“Our community is looking for strong, collaborative leaders who exhibit a commitment to serve,” writes Jeremy Rubell, a Park City Council candidate.