As the new deputy in the Grafton County Sheriff’s Department, Jill Myers was given a stun gun, pepper spray and a 9mm Glock.
But when Myers makes an arrest — usually for failing to appear in court — or assists local police on a domestic disturbance call, she’s found something else in her arsenal that’s far more effective at defusing tense encounters.
“Your voice is your best tool,” Myers told me. “It’s all in your tone and choice of words.”
It’s music to my ears.
Law enforcement has enough wannabe cowboys and macho ex-military men with an us versus the world mentality.
I would like to think that Myers and Elizabeth Marshall, another recent recruit of Grafton County Sheriff Jeff Stiegler, represent a new generation of law enforcement officers.
To begin with, they obtained four-year university degrees. (A 2017 national study showed that only 30% of officers had four-year degrees.)
Why is this important?
A 2014 study from Michigan State University indicated that a “college degree significantly reduces the likelihood that officers will use force as a first option to achieve compliance.”
Myers, 27, and Marshall, 31, also belong to a segment of the law enforcement community that is embracing the use of body cameras to increase police accountability. And if the people encountered by the police know that their actions are being recorded, their behavior may also change for the better.
“Cameras can definitely defuse a situation,” Marshall said.
When Stiegler got his start in law enforcement in the 1980s, cruiser dash cameras — the ancestor of body cameras — were a novelty.
In some police departments, “they were almost taboo,” Stiegler said, recalling a police chief who told him cameras were a “double-edged sword” that could work for and against officers accused of misconduct.
In addition to having dash cams in their cruisers, Myers and Marshall wear body cameras. The department currently has only four, but all deputies will receive them later this year, Stiegler said.
In a department with nine full-time deputies, Myers and Marshall are the only two women, which is not unusual in American law enforcement. Women make up less than 13% of full-time police officers in the United States, according to a 2021 report by Stateline, an online publication of The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Myers has been a cop for six years in New Hampshire, where she grew up. She came to the Littleton Sheriff’s Department, where she started out as a patrol officer before being promoted to detective.
Married with three children, the youngest aged 3 months, Myers wanted to move to the sheriff’s department, where it’s “a little slower pace”. Full-time assistants tend to work Monday through Friday, with part-timers taking weekend shifts.
But no matter where you work, the police don’t change. she said. An officer’s conduct – in uniform and out of uniform – is always open to public scrutiny. “It’s life in a fishbowl,” said Myers, whose starting annual salary is around $62,000.
Stiegler, who was elected in 2018 after serving as police chief in Bradford, Vermont, called Myers a “seasoned cop” who is a “great mentor” to Marshall.
Having joined the department in December, Marshall is still a rookie. But she enters the profession with “eyes wide open”. His father, now retired, was a longtime soldier and New Hampshire State Police detective.
By the time she had completed 16 weeks of training at the New Hampshire Police Academy in Concord, Marshall was ranked in the academic top 10 of 67 graduates. (I didn’t hear that from her; Stiegler posted it on her Facebook page.)
Marshall opted for a career in law enforcement and a job with an annual starting salary of around $54,000, after working in the Superior Court Clerk’s office, one floor above the sheriff’s quarters. , in North Haverhill.
“People don’t really know what the sheriff’s department does,” Marshall said.
I would go even further. Because sheriff’s deputies don’t conduct drug investigations or oversee homicide investigations, I think a good portion of the public doesn’t see them as real cops.
But their role should not be underestimated. Deputies spend a lot of time tracking down people who are on the run for outstanding warrants. In civil cases, they get stuck with a lot of dirty work. Once a landlord has taken the legal steps to get an eviction, deputies have the unpleasant task of making sure the tenant moves out, whether they’re ready or not.
“Usually when people see us, they’re having a bad day,” Marshall said.
Much of a deputy’s job involves driving arrested people from a local police station to the county jail or their initial court appearance. Deputies also transport offenders incarcerated outside of Grafton County to and from the courthouse.
“You have to remember that everyone in the back seat is still a human being,” Marshall said. “It’s important to treat them with respect.”
Last year, when Stiegler had two assistant positions to fill, he started with a pool of 12 candidates. Six did not show up for the first day of fitness testing, which includes a 1.5-mile run, and two did not meet the state’s minimum fitness standards.
“Recruiting has become very difficult,” Stiegler said.
Hiring law enforcement officials also need to develop new strategies. “Gone are the days of bringing a State Police helicopter or an armored vehicle to job fairs,” Stiegler said. “The younger ones aren’t impressed.”
It’s encouraging. For police reform in this country to have a chance, a new generation of officers will need to holster their guns and raise their voices.
Jim Kenyon can be contacted at [email protected]