It is difficult to express my sadness and outrage at the tragic death of George Floyd a few weeks ago. This type of police conduct is unacceptable and is something that needs to be addressed.

The big question is -- How do we address this? It is not impossible, but it takes commitment by all, as well as a willingness to talk and come to the table with an open mind. We need to truly HEAR one another.

Most problems start with a communication breakdown. A critical part of law enforcement is to be ready to listen to the concerns of the community. If we don't have the community's trust, how effective can law enforcement actually be?

In this edition of the "Sheriff's Corner," I discuss community policing and building relationships between law enforcement and the people we serve.

SETTING THE EXAMPLE

First and foremost, we in law enforcement need to set the example. Not just during the course of our duties, but in our personal lives as well. Being professional at all times, while realizing our main purpose is public safety. It is not just about writing tickets and taking people to jail, but keeping the community safe. There are times we have to do these things, but public safety should be our primary focus.

Misconduct and impropriety can happen anywhere. Bad decisions don't just happen in urban areas with large police departments. As Sheriff, I have made some tough decisions relating to my staff for actions while on-duty and off-duty.

It starts at the top, and regardless of the consequences, what's right is right. The ones investigating crimes and those sworn to serve you, at all times need to be above reproach. If the community sees that we are allowing these things to happen with our own staff, then that faith and trust are removed from the people we serve.

COMMUNITY POLICING

The number one question that new police academy recruits have when selecting a department to work for is "How does the community feel about the local law enforcement agency?" This means that recruits want to work in a place where there is a positive relationship between the community and law enforcement.

How do we establish and maintain a positive relationship with the community? That burden rests solely on us. Public interactions with the police should not be limited to negativity such as a traffic stop or responding to a complaint. We need to stop at local businesses, chat with the community, and be involved with social events.

From day one of taking office as Sheriff of Lake County, this has been a primary focus. I'm sure most anybody in this county could pick me out from a photo line-up due to my involvement.

Everyone knows a name, but do they know the face? The community won't always remember what you said, but will always remember what you do, or what you did, ... and do you follow through with what you say ... and are you genuine?

My job is to be out in the community, to hear your concerns, as well as being transparent in informing the public on what is going on in local government. The community needs to know who we are. We are just people like you, but we have a job to do and are an example to the community, whether that is our intention or not.

I believe that I have made great strides in the past several years towards these goals and creating a positive relationship with the community.

As officers, we need to be nonjudgmental. This means that everyone receives the same service regardless of their past, where they come from or socioeconomic status.

Sometimes I see the same people visiting my "hotel" on a regular basis but that doesn't change the way we should treat them. These are human beings. There is always hope that someone will make better life choices. We can only help that by trying to listen to them and let them know that we do care, and it is never too late to make better choices.

When people feel that all hope is lost, that no one cares, then the chance of them trying to make better choices is next to nill. Each of our choices has consequences, good and bad.

In many cases, bad decisions are the result of upbringing. Their circumstances resulted in them making bad choices, partially due to limitations on those choices. We don't know what someone has gone through or continues to go through in their everyday life. We need to keep that in mind and by doing so we can better address the situation to hopefully avert any future issues.

Try to remember that in your own lives too. What may be an apparently easy choice for you, maybe very difficult for someone else, either due to upbringing, circumstances, or things beyond their control. We can help that by giving opportunities to make better choices and being less judgmental.

We have all heard of the "Golden Rule" -- treat others the way "you" want to be treated. This is absolutely false. My philosophy is living by the "Platinum Rule" -- Treat others the way "they" want to be treated, as long as it is ethical.

Everybody is different, and there is no textbook way to deal with every situation or any particular person. Kindness and consideration will not harm you and may help someone else, which brings me to the next part of my article ...

WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER

For a rural area, Lake County has a very diverse community. Generally, we all work together and don't have the issues that many communities have. Diversity itself makes us special and sets us above the rest. We accept others and value our differences.

No one person has all the answers nor can they speak on all aspects or needs of the community. That is why we need to get input from the community as a whole, including those we do not agree with. This includes full-time residents, part-time residents, visitors, and even people of different political orientations.

Remember this -- every single person up here is likely in this community for many of the same reasons as you are -- whether Republican, Democrat, Independent or other. We have far more in common than not.

We need to focus more on unity and what we have in common and stop chastising those who don't agree with us. The philosophy of "you are either with us or against us" never results in a positive outcome.

Our country as a whole, and our local community, need to start looking at where we are going to end up. There will always be different opinions on how to get there, but there are fundamental things that we all agree on. We need to focus on where we agree and use that as our guide. We cannot simply push problems aside, or they will only get bigger.

MOVING IN A POSITIVE DIRECTION

I am fortunate and honored to now have an exceptional team of professional corrections officers and deputies. We are all working in a positive direction to meet these goals. The mission statement I adopted after taking office is "Providing exceptional public safety services while serving with honor, integrity, and dedication to those who work, live, and visit Lake County."

This is more than a motto but this is our mission on every complaint we take, to every accident we respond to, to every traffic stop we make, and to every call we go to. 'Honor' is the privilege to serve, 'integrity' is to do the right thing and to be truthful, and 'dedication' to serving the public trust while providing a diligent and complete service.

This information is provided to you for clarification of specific laws, and not legal advice. This is not to be construed as a personal opinion, agreement or disagreement of any specific law. If you have any questions on any specific topic, you can always email me your questions to rmartin@co.lake.mi.us.