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Sheriff applauds work of his deputies

Sheriff Jenkins reassured residents.
A law enforcement professional who began his career at age 18, the affable, approachable Sheriff Scott Jenkins, 42, takes obvious pride in his many achievements, but he is quick to send credit down the chain of command.

This was supremely evident in his “State of the Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office,” a multi-media presentation held Friday at the Joseph R. Daniel Technology Center, the Culpeper campus of Germanna Community College.

Two years shy of the next election, he called the event his “mid-term report.” In abundance were his deputies and his backers, including newly elected Cedar Mountain District supervisor Jack Frazier.

The atmosphere and the sheriff’s report itself were cheerful, positive and celebratory.

He began by saying it has been his “greatest honor to serve alongside community leaders I have long admired.” He commended his staff and credited the leadership skills of his lieutenants and sergeants for putting more officers on the streets, achieving a 25 percent hike in patrols from 2011 to 2013.

Repeatedly crediting his team, Jenkins documented that he slashed the budget while putting more deputies on patrol, boosting school and courthouse security, substantially reducing jail expenditures and establishing a new grievance procedure for civilian employees.

Jenkins is also dogging homicide cases despite trails that have long run cold. Initially, there were eight detectives when he came aboard as sheriff. “Now we have 10 and a few part-time investigators.”

While operated by the Culpeper County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Jenkins said his forensics lab is available to law enforcement agencies in neighboring counties. The lab is the result of a public-private partnership struck between the sheriff’s office and Terremark Worldwide, the bleeding-edge data fortress in Culpeper.

His office tripled the number of drug and DUI arrests from 2012 to 2013. Established in January 2012, the sheriff’s K-9 force is now four units strong and to date has seized $55,000 in illegal drugs.

Sheriff Jenkins singled out LT Bryant Arrington for special praise. Head of the Special Operations Division, LT Arrington is in charge of how Culpeper responds to an “active shooter,” arguably the most challenging situation facing Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams nationwide. The sheriff is proud of the extensive training Arrington has provided not only to his operators, but also to dispatchers and first responders who must tackle workplace violence and control calamity.

The mention of LT Arrington and SWAT was a natural segue into a matter of some controversy: the department’s acquisition of an armored vehicle – to be precise, a Caiman MRAP (for “Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected”) manufactured by BAE Systems, the British defense giant. He emphasized that the vehicle will be used chiefly for SWAT response to “active shooter” and barricade situations and is available to neighboring law enforcement agencies.

“If your officers are under fire, you’ve got to get to the threat,” he said, explaining that high-powered rifle rounds will defeat conventional ballistic-resistant vests but won’t penetrate the Caiman to harm the operators on-board. “Until now, we didn’t have the means to move officers safely into a situation involving a rifle shooter. This is the world we live in.”

Originally purchased by the federal government seven years ago for $600,000, the vehicle was obtained through the federal government’s “1033 program” (1033 is the applicable section of the annual National Defense Authorization Act). Through 1033, state and local law enforcement agencies can obtain without charge materials deemed by the Secretary of Defense to be “excess.” The available equipment runs the gamut from vehicles to computers, tents, first aid gear, night vision devices (NVDs), even remotely-operated inspection robots. The Culpeper sheriff’s office obtained 20 NVDs through the program.

Since its inception in 1997, 1033 has provided $2.6 billion in “excess” Department of Defense material to law enforcement agencies in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. This is in addition to federal grants to state and local law enforcement through agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security. DHS awarded more than $2 billion in law enforcement grants last year. Since the 9/11 attacks by Al Qaeda Central on the Pentagon and New York City, total federal grants have topped $34 billion.

In recent weeks, dozens of law enforcement agencies from Alabama to Arizona have obtained the military’s “excess” armored vehicles. In August and September alone, the Defense Logistics Agency released a total of 75 armored vehicles to law enforcement agencies nationwide.

Next year, orders through the 1033 program for equipment of all kinds will be at least 400 percent greater than this year’s requests, according to Business Insider.

Caiman chatter

So, is the Caiman MRAP evidence of runaway militarization in quaint, picturesque Culpeper? Or, at 18 tons, is the vehicle just a very, very heavy truck the county acquired to protect its SWAT operators, just for the cost of shipping?

No matter where you come down on that question, one thing’s for sure: politicians often upend themselves by saying extraordinarily stupid things. Take New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg for example. In 2011, he tried (and failed) to channel General Patton by saying: “I have my own army in the NYPD.” No. He doesn’t. And he cannot.

Last Friday night, Sheriff Scott Jenkins did no such thing. Leaving Michael Bloomberg in the dust with the super-sized soft drinks he loathes, Jenkins took the high road: “I have to laugh at the charge that this vehicle is intended to take weapons away” from law-abiding citizens. “I’ve taught CCW courses for years,” he said, referring to Virginia’s Concealed-Carry Weapons Permit system backed by the National Rifle Association.

“I believe in the right to keep and bear arms.” The claim that some nefarious purpose underlies the Caiman “is far far from me,” he said.

Jenkins: 1. Bloomberg: 0.

Is it a Race for “Full Battle-Rattle” or “Free” Resources?

From the American Civil Liberties Union to the libertarian Cato Institute, freedom advocates point with concern to signs that local and state law enforcement agencies are increasingly “militarizing.” Regardless of whether that charge is valid, the acquisition of military equipment neither softens the image nor addresses the underlying concern.

As Cato’s Timothy Lynch put it: “What is most worrisome to us is that the line that has traditionally separated the military from civilian policing is fading away. We see it as one of the most disturbing trends in the criminal justice area – the militarization of police tactics.”

He is not alone. Norm Stamper, the former chief of the Seattle PD who cracked down on the World Trade Organization protests in 1999, regretted the “Battle of Seattle” tactics so deeply, he wrote a book on the “unmistakable trend” toward “militarization,” titled Breaking Rank: A Top Cop’s Exposé of the Dark Side of American Policing.

Unlike the U.S. Navy SEALs for whom I worked intelligence and counterterrorism for the last five years, police are not combat warriors. They never will be. Importantly, they never should be. Rather, police “are the citizens.” Those are the words of Sir Robert Peel, 19th century U.K. prime minister, creator of “the Bobbies” of Scotland Yard and Godfather of modern-day policing in the West. “And the citizens,” he added, “are the police.”

Query: Are the citizens still the police? The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 prohibits the U.S. military from playing a law enforcement role on U.S. soil, but has local law enforcement cleared that hurdle by “militarizing” themselves?

Those are questions communities must answer for themselves, but here are a few markers for Culpeper:

Are up-armored vehicles in the hands of police a new phenomenon? Absolutely not. NYPD has had up-armored vehicles for decades.

Here is a blast from the past from Bean Town: Google the work of Leslie Jones, the late, great photographer for the now defunct Boston Herald-Traveler newspaper. With a little perseverance, you will find a photo of Boston PD’s “riot car,” a rickety truck that protected officers with ordinary steel plates. The photograph was shot in the 1920s.

Culpeper’s Caiman may just be a variation on the same theme. And for $600,000, it had better be a lot less rickety.

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