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Randy Sutton

Randy Sutton is a 33-year law enforcement veteran, a trainer, and the national spokesman for The American Council on Public Safety. He served 10 years with the Princeton (N.J.) Police Department and 23 years with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, retiring at the rank of lieutenant. He is an author who has published multiple books on law enforcement.

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In Praise of Straight-Shooting Brass

A chief or sheriff who speaks his or her mind without a political filter is a member of a rare and dying breed.

June 19, 2013  |  by - Also by this author

Photo by Kelly Bracken.
Photo by Kelly Bracken.
I love the straight-shooters.

Unlike those who see the soft-sell as a perishable skillset and therefore practice it 24/7, they don't check for wind direction or perform any other litmus test before articulating their true feelings. Not surprisingly, their comments can make for memorable soundbites.

At a press conference after one of his deputies was killed and another wounded, Polk County (Fla.) Sheriff Grady Judd was asked why their assailant had been shot 68 times when cornered.

"I suspect the only reason 110 rounds was all that was fired was that's all the ammunition they had," Judd responded. "We were not going to take any chance of him shooting back."

Addressing the media after the recent shooting death of Jason Ellis, a mourning Bardstown (Ky.) Police Chief Rick McCubbin said, "It's a very sad day for us. This is the first police officer in the history of the Bardstown Police Department to be shot and killed in the line of duty, and our police department dates back well over a hundred and fifty years."

But Chief McCubbin did not stop there:

"I can assure you, we won't give up on this person or persons until we have them either in our custody, or in the sights of one of our weapons. And I personally hope the latter is the choice," he said.

In both cases, some expressed outrage at the perceived heartlessness of the speakers in question. As far as I am concerned, these are the kind of leaders that law enforcement could use more of.

I didn't always feel that way. When I was younger, I initially held that Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block provided a nice, avuncular contrast to LAPD's irascible Darryl Gates. But as time went by I noticed that whereas Gates was, for better or worse, always shooting from the hip and lip, Block was invariably more of a considered tactician. So consciously incapable of offending anyone, he was simultaneously incapable of placating anyone, either. And whatever else, Gates could be counted upon to speak up assertively on behalf of his personnel, repercussions be damned. Meanwhile, just about any deputy who found himself in a shooting that got controverted was getting terminated on Block's watch.

In the aftermath of Rodney King, Rampart, and so much else, it became increasingly fashionable for law enforcement administrators to rein in their tongues—in Gates' case, to reevaluate his support of some officers— and wait for all manner of formal and informal inquiries to be completed before tendering an opinion on pretty much anything. Today, what comes forth from them in the press is often so sanitized as to leave no more of an impression than the babble spoken by an adult in a Charlie Brown cartoon. Much is left to department spokespersons to run interference on, with more than a few media liaisons looking like how that poor bespectacled bastard Jay Carney does every time he's squirming behind the podium on behalf of his boss, Obama.

True, there have been others such as the grandstanding Mike Carona who loved the limelight and milked every opportunity they could. Which made the former Orange County (Calif.) Sheriff's fall from power all the more public and terrible. And some say Joe Arpaio grandstands ... maybe he does, but his Italian lineage excuses the theatrical bent, and I'd be happy as hell to see him as my sheriff. Such men, such women, constitute the conspicuous exceptions.

I'm not advocating that law enforcement leaders behave in a provocative manner on every little thing that comes on the media radar. Certainly there are times when tact and discretion are warranted.

But when it comes to cop killers—those lowest forms of vermin that deprive spouses, parents, children, and siblings of their cherished loved ones—I think that our administrators can afford to drop the damn stoicism a little and wear their humanity (yes, I dare to use that word within this context) on their sleeve.

I would hope that they occasionally remember that some things are not said to appease Joe Citizen.

They're said for the benefit of the troops that are still with us.

And for those who aren't.

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