Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb, Cpl. Marshall Harshman of Apache Junction Police Department and Mayor Jeff Serdy of Apache Junction recently weighed-in on the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the nationwide protests that erupted as a result.
All three conveyed the importance of training and policy in prevention of such an event, their support for the protesters’ Constitutional right to the freedom of assembly, and that it is crucial that protests be of a peaceful and lawful nature.
Sheriff Lamb expressed his steadfast devotion to the American Constitution, and the right to freedom of assembly.
“I 100% --- and I said it in videos --- support that First Amendment right to peacefully assemble to protest. In this country, that is one of the ways we can get the ear that we need to get the changes that we want,” he said.
It’s important to protest in a lawful and peaceful manner, the sheriff said.
“I think in many cases there was peaceful protest. However, I think there’s people with bad intentions who’ve hijacked a lot of those peaceful protests, and who have turned those into anarchy --- which is rioting, looting --- and that’s not OK,” he said.
“You have to believe in the rule of law, that’s part of being a constitutional conservative --- is understanding that we have rights, but the value of the rule of law plays into living those rights and having those constitutional rights,” Sheriff Lamb said.
Protests that occurred in Pinal County have been peaceful, he said.
“Fortunately, all of the protests we have had in Pinal County --- that I was made aware of --- have been peaceful. I think Maricopa had one, I think Casa Grande had a few. All of them were peaceful. And people were able to have their voice heard, which is really what it’s for,” he said.
At a recent town gathering, Sheriff Lamb, other elected officials and community members gathered after the death of George Floyd to talk openly, he said.
“What we did here in our county is, we organized a group of local leaders --- from the black community, the Hispanic community, several of our elected officials --- and I had a meeting, so they could come in. We had no agenda. It was just them --- to be able to talk to us, openly and honestly. And for them to vent and to tell us what they thought what we needed to do better. And, it was great. We had some really good conversations. We were able to take some good things from there,” Sheriff Lamb said.
He discussed humanity when on the topic of law-enforcement and community.
“When I took office as sheriff, one of the things I continually said was I wanted to restore the humanity in law-enforcement. I think that’s so important to have that human piece of it --- where your deputies have the freedom to be able to listen to the people and understand the situation when they respond to a call,” Sheriff Lamb said.
“So, what we really try to do is instill in our deputies that ability to do their job with their heart, with kindness, with dignity, with respect. And, I think that’s been one of the benefits of our agency, and I think we’ve been fortunate not to have a lot of issues where somebody’s abused their power,” he said.
Training and accountability are important, he said.
“That’s not to say it’s never going to happen, though. And I don’t know, but I’m sure just the sheer numbers says that you’re probably going to have one or two guys that maybe don’t do it the way we want them to do it. And, that’s our job as leaders that we can find those and weed them out,” Sheriff Lamb said. “Hopefully train them and get them better. And, if they’re not trainable, and if they’re not somebody who is going to learn what they need to do better, then maybe it’s time to move on.”
Sheriff Lamb emphasized Pinal County Sheriff’s Office’s positive track record with the community.
“I think it’s important to understand that the majority of police interactions across this country and in this county are positive police interactions. Despite the fact that we’re showing up, on many cases, those peoples’ worst days in their lives. Yet, we still have a tremendous track record of success dealing with these calls in the right way,” he said.
When discussing the death of George Floyd, Cpl. Harshman noted that chokehold maneuvers have been against Apache Junction Police Department’s policy for years.
“We have not changed anything related to policy, Apache Junction was already ahead of the game... That’s not an acceptable form of defensive tactics here in Apache Junction,” he said.
“We just went through an accreditation process through ALEAP where they had to review all of our policies. And all of our polices --- every single policy --- has been looked at and updated within the last two years. So, we were ahead of the game. We were ahead of other agencies in that we were already trying to update our policies,” Cpl. Harshman said.
When residents of Apache Junction protest, they do so peacefully, he said.
“We haven’t had --- here in the City of Apache Junction --- any significant protest. Of course we have people with their signs, bumper stickers, and of course we encourage everybody to voice their opinion and make their opinion known. Protest peacefully, and that’s what the people of the City of Apache Junction do,” Cpl. Harshman said.
He also conveyed reverence for the constitution, and the protection it offers to protesters.
“We always encourage people to protest; that’s part of our great American tradition. People should protest and peoples’ voices should be heard --- it’s guaranteed by our Constitution, and we encourage that. So, that’s also very important,” Cpl. Harshman said.
AJPD receives a lot of support from the citizens of Apache Junction, he said.
“Our officers here in the City of Apache Junction enjoy tremendous amount of support from our community.... Other parts of the country are experiencing a lot of negative sentiment from their community members; that’s not the case here in Apache Junction. We have an overwhelming number of support from our community, and we’ve always enjoyed a really good relationship with our community,” Cpl. Harshman said.
AJPD has a school resource officer assigned to Apache Junction High School and one starting this year at Apache Trail High School.
“I think there’s going to be a shift in tactics and community involvement with the police, which is why I’ve been so in favor of resource officers into the schools --- get a good relationship with the youth when they’re young, instead of having their first interaction with a police officer being negative later on. So very important,” Apache Junction Mayor Serdy said.
He favors increasing funding for the police department.
“Not only not defunding police but increasing their budget. Because things are going to get tougher not better. So, we need to be recruiting new officers because a lot of people now --- that are thinking about going into the academy --- this may even dissuade them. I think the military had that problem after the Vietnam war about getting volunteers. Then they really had to incentivize new recruits, and police may be facing the same problem,” Mayor Serdy said.
Protests need to be done in a civil manner, he said.
“A lot of times good things come from protests --- they do change the world. But please, do it peacefully and respectfully, and not destructively,” Mayor Serdy said.
Editor’s note: Volunteer reporter R. Nicholas Evans, who lives in the East Valley, is a freelance journalist.