OPINION: Sheriff's statement on the death of George Floyd

Submitted by Sheriff Jon Lopey

First, as a 43-year law enforcement veteran of law enforcement and a long-time law enforcement administrator, I am saddened by the senseless death of Mr. George Floyd and my thoughts and prayers go out to him, his family, friends, associates, and all others impacted by this tragic incident. It is obvious his death has created a lot of confusion, anger, turmoil and varying reactions throughout the nation, our state, region, and internationally, his death has sparked similar reactions abroad.

Secondly, the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) strives every day to protect and serve the great citizens of our jurisdiction and we have been careful to adopt policies, practices, techniques, tactics, and procedures with which to prevent unnecessary applications of force and to preserve life.  We take each application of force and our encounters with the citizens we serve very seriously. 

We have attempted to espouse but also practice the principles of community-oriented policing by learning about the people we serve and applying solutions to social and crime problems that arise in our communities in a fair, impartial, and professional way.  Our organizational values reflect that – ‘SCSO PRIDE,’ which means we strive to be professional, we respect others and treat them with dignity and respect; we practice integrity in all that we do, on and off-duty; we are dedicated to our citizens, our Department, and to the law enforcement profession, and we attempt to achieve excellence in all that we do.  These are words and they must be practiced each and every day. 

As an organization, we strive to select the type of co-workers that have demonstrated the capacity and intention of espousing and practicing these values.  We thoroughly screen applicants for employment, we test them, we evaluate them, and they undergo extensive psychological testing.  We conduct 16-hours of racial and cultural diversity training in our Academy and we follow-up with the implementation of sound and stringent policies that reflect these tenets and principles. Training of tenured employees is continuous and reinforce lessons learned in past eras, including awareness, skills, and techniques to vigorously prevent bias in our policing activities.

Deputy-trainees typically undergo a minimum 16-week field training officer program and they are tested thereafter each day through evaluations, leader observations, and if necessary, accountability through re-training, counseling, or disciplinary action. 

We attempt to hire a workforce that reflects the diversity of our county and we engage in proactive engagement in all communities through community liaison deputies, town halls, community meetings, and through objective problem analysis and problem-solving processes. In short, we care about the people we serve and take our obligation to serve them very, very seriously. 

Members of the SCSO are dedicated to the imperatives and tenets of fairness, equality, integrity, and professionalism in all that we do. 

Mr. Floyd’s death was a tragedy and this Department is taking this opportunity to re-evaluate our policies, procedures, and methods of operation to determine if there is anything, we can do better.

Serving the public is something that is more than a “buzz word” or tenet, it is believing in selfless service and practicing our organizational values each day.  This Department, its leadership, and our co-workers are dedicated to these values and we strive every day to do a better job than we did the day before.

The death of Mr. Floyd illustrates the fact that it only takes one bad decision or ill-conceived action to lose the trust of the citizens we serve and that trust is something we have to earn every second, minute, hour, and day we wear the badge.

Again, on behalf of the Siskiyou County Sheriff’s Office and its management team, we grieve the loss of Mr. Floyd but at the same time dedicate our lives and our purpose as law enforcement professionals to do our best and to prevent such a tragedy from happening here in Siskiyou County.

I think this is a good opportunity for all of us as citizens and as public servants to unite in a common cause to recognize we can do better but at the same time, constrain ourselves by protesting Mr. Floyd’s death in a meaningful way, free of violence, needless property damage, and destruction we have unfortunately seen in other parts of the state and nation. 

As a proud military veteran with service overseas, I have served and fought to preserve our right to freely express our viewpoints; however, I strongly feel our constitutional rights should not be abused through lawless, discourteous, or discriminatory acts.

We stand united in a common cause to promote the very best for all of our citizens – To protect and to serve in such a way that everyone feels safe and trusts its law enforcement professionals and in peaceful protest we can more readily and justly honor the memory of Mr. George Floyd in a way that encourages and promotes meaningful dialogue and justifiable change in the hearts, minds, and actions of our citizens and all public servants.

There is no excuse for discriminating against others or victimizing others. Great leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said many times, protest is a great tool, but violence is incompatible with peaceful and meaningful change.

I also want to say one thing about the law enforcement profession I have intimately known for over 43-years. Every department I worked for (police department, California Highway Patrol, and SCSO) were and/or staffed by some of the most selfless, courageous, and kind-hearted people I ever knew. I have known the vast majority of law enforcement professionals with whom I have associated to be the types of officers or deputies that would gladly honor their oaths of office and willingly risk life and limb to help others in need, regardless of their station in life.

This was true when I started my career in the Bay Area and later, East Los Angeles, and all other areas within which I have worked. My experiences have also proven valid when evaluating partner federal, state, and local agencies I frequently observed conducting their law enforcement duties. When peace officers swerve from the path of duty I have found the vast majority of agencies to be the types of agencies that hold them accountable, which is the right thing to do. Can we do better? I think we can, and we will. The tragic incident in Minneapolis, Minnesota, while wrong and catastrophic to many of us, including the law enforcement vocation, does not, in my opinion, reflect the character, commitment, and professionalism of the entire law enforcement profession and the vast majority of its sworn and non-sworn members. Peace officers are largely, in essence, the community they serve and they take their duties to protect and serve very, very seriously.

While we honor the rights of fellow citizens like George Floyd, we also stand with the citizens of Siskiyou County and will ask and demand that demonstrators and other concerned citizens observe the rights of others and protest in a peaceful, respectful, and lawful manner.

I have heard Siskiyou County and its citizens characterized on social media sites in a negative way and many times there is a perception because we are ‘rural’ that we are not enlightened, progressive, compassionate, or educated. I have found the opposite is true of the citizens of Siskiyou County – the vast, vast majority of citizens here are educated, open-minded, tolerant, enlightened, aware of the world around them and they are some of the most compassionate, generous, respectful, loving, and caring people I have ever known.

Siskiyou County is great county made up of many diverse groups, which makes our county even more special. I would also like to add that we embrace and celebrate diversity and we welcome newcomers and visitors. Siskiyou County is blessed with some of the greatest environments in the world, including scenic snow-covered mountain landscapes, historic and legendary forests, high deserts, lakes, rivers, creeks, lush valleys, fertile farmland, and fish and wildlife that is almost unlimited. Like our people, our many outdoor environments reflect a variety of panoramic views, characteristics, and potential.

Siskiyou County is a county that reflects diverse cultures and people and a variety of viewpoints but at the same time is a community that is predominantly comprised of hard-working and independent-thinking citizens and community leaders that have created a most ideal place within which to live, work, and play. A few years ago, I was asked to name Siskiyou County’s ‘Most Famous Sheriff,’ whose memory was going to be honored at the annual California State Sheriffs’ Association (CSSA) conference held in Orange County, California.

I named long-serving Sheriff Charlie Byrd, a visionary sheriff-coroner who served with utmost dignity, professionalism, enthusiasm, commitment, and courage. Sheriff Byrd was a well-respected leader to countless law enforcement and political leaders, and citizens throughout the State of California and he once served as the President of the CSSA, a prestigious honor held by but a few throughout its storied history.

Siskiyou County Sheriff-Coroner Charlie Byrd was the first African American sheriff in the State of California. He served four terms in office, beginning in 1986. Although Sheriff Byrd passed away years ago, he still stands as an example of what can and should be in a county like this and he, along with other community leaders of color, are and continue to be a living legacy of what our county stands for and what type of character is represented in its people and leaders.”