Written by David Leonhardi, President of the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association of San Diego County
“To Protect and to Serve” is a guiding creed for peace officers everywhere. Ask any San Diego County sheriff’s deputy why he or she puts on the uniform and badge every day, and they’ll tell you they are in it to serve their communities. We are a part of the communities we take an oath to protect and serve, which is why we are willing to lay down our lives in the line of duty. We care deeply about our communities, citizens, and the profession we have chosen to uphold.
Over the past weeks, the duty to protect and serve our communities has been tainted and called into question. In the last 30 days, more than 100 police officers and deputy sheriffs have been injured while on the job during protests, eight of which have lost their lives. Deputies read these headlines every day. Nevertheless, each morning we are still required to put on the uniform, show up to work, and stand across protest lines from our friends and neighbors, all while maintaining a high standard of professionalism.
When deputies get up in the morning, after having worked a 12-hour shift the previous day defending our public buildings and those who serve in them, it’s hard not to feel the aches and pains of the countless bottles, bricks, rocks, and insults hurled at us just the day before. Still, we put on our uniforms, kiss our families, and head out to protect and serve the community.
The frustration and anger felt by many in our communities is shared by our deputies — your neighbors, friends, and family members — who stand for justice and fairness in the face of lawlessness and violence every day. Some of the recent actions by law enforcement officers across the nation have left us saddened, fearful, and angry. We’ve watched as some in our profession have betrayed the very oath they swore to uphold, and like many, we are angered by these acts.
But as troubling and heart-wrenching as these situations are, as law enforcement we’ve also had to sit back and watch as our profession is callously torn down. We’ve silently watched the media show little regard for the data and zero concern for the validity of their claims, and we’ve witnessed an increase in community fear-mongering, misinformation, and lack of respect for facts and statistics as a result. We’ve fielded cries from our deputies as public attacks are not only relentless but are also many times erroneous.
Our members — the men and women of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department — have had enough. I say it again: we have had enough. Many may think deputies and other law enforcement officers have the freedom to choose which laws they enforce and how they enforce them, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Deputies are trained according to standards set by legislators in Sacramento, and we enforce laws that come down from politicians and others in the government. We do recognize the need for change in other areas throughout the country, but we can be proud of the fact that San Diego is ahead of the curve when it comes to law enforcement training, practices, and policies.
For instance, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department already has the following practices and principles in place that are being called for throughout the country:
- The implementation of body-worn cameras
- No-knock warrants are very uncommon and require judicial authorization
- Establishment of the Citizens’ Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB) in 1990
- Implementation of De-escalation Training, Duty to Intervene, and Non-Biased Based policing training and policies
- Establishment of Use of Force policies and comprehensive reporting surrounding the use of force
- Banning of the carotid restraint on June 3, 2020 in response to community concerns
Simply put, the data show these policies and trainings are working. If you are hungry for change, remember that our deputies are getting up in the morning and putting their lives at risk to protect and serve our communities. Remember that they represent one of the leading examples of law enforcement in the nation. But, most importantly, remember that the narrative you share, the bias you breathe life into, without considering the perspective of law enforcement officers, is contributing to a dangerous landscape for law enforcement that will unfortunately have a ripple effect on the communities of San Diego County.
We have suggestions, we have solutions, we have data, and we are also willing to listen. But our question to our communities and to our elected officials is: are you prepared to do the same?
The Deputy Sheriffs’ Association of San Diego County (DSA) is the professional labor organization of the more than 2,500 sworn deputies of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. For the last sixty years, the DSA has been “The Strength Behind the Badge,”® supporting San Diego deputies and their families.