Candidate interview with Lyon County Sheriff Al McNeil

The Fernley Reporter recently conducted interviews with Lyon County Sheriff’s candidate Frank Hunewill and incumbent Al McNeil. The following is the transcript of the interview with McNeil, edited only for grammatical and clarity purposes. Any factually incorrect statements are the sole responsibility of the candidate.

Q – Why did you decide to run for reelection?

A – I think for me, it’s like when I’m trying to present the reports, and we’re trying to teach deputies about data driven decisions and resource decisions. Looking at calls from Priority 1 through Priority 6, trying to educate them to improve the delivery of services that we’re providing for the county, so that we put, just an example because it’s fresh on my mind, but we put a lot of various programs in place to improve and enhance the quality of life of the citizens of this county across the county, and if you have the desire I think as a leader to implement these plans, and then you don’t follow up with another four more years, then why did you waste your time to begin with, if you felt that passionate about the direction the agency is moving to make this a better, more desirable county and place to live? I would personally question the motive of the individual. I’m the type of person that says “We got in here, I want to finish this thing through.” So that was part of my decision.

Q – What are some of the things you’ve done over the four years that you have in progress and want to continue, or take the next step with?

A – Part of where I’m at is with our patrol, our field services, increasing the efficiency of the use of technology and data. Data driven, to be able to plan and plot and grow that bureau of young deputies. And we have a very young deputy core out there, and even to be able to grow and mature our mid-level supervisors to be able to get them to that point. We brought in MDTs, (mobile data terminals), computers, we brought in electronic citations in these four years, so we’ve still got some things we’ve got to flesh out and improve upon that, to make it more efficient, more effective. The body worn cameras are coming on in December. We had initially scheduled for November, but there were some equipment shortages and it wasn’t ordered properly, so we had to get some additional stuff. So that program is being implemented out there.

Our jail services, and the substance abuse and mental health programs that we brought into the jail, helping to reduce our recidivism. There’s a lot of definition of what is recidivism, but I look at it this way. Recidivism is the individual that comes back into our system, our criminal justice system. And so when you’ve got a 17-percent reduction over three years of decreasing that returnee population, I can’t say we’ve solved all their criminality problems, some of them we may have displaced them out of the county, but the bottom line is our recidivists are lessened. So that’s telling me some of the programs we’ve got in place (are working).

I want to continue to be able to grow our intelligence-led policing programs, whether in major crimes and our special investigations unit, they’re both on fire. They’re both doing a good job and collectively when I say these three arms, these three bureaus working together, I think harmoniously, is why we’ve gotten that 46-percent reduction in our violent crime. And again it goes back to with the leadership saying this is how we prioritize our work. You can’t do everything. You can’t be everything to everyone. So when you prioritize that work, you say ‘Okay, what’s the most important things that we do?’ Just like talking about our response times. Priority 1 and Priority 2, you drop what you’re doing and you get there, because that’s our most critical component when the call is being received. It’s no different than when I say okay, if it sells drugs, if it commits sex offenses, if it is a violent crime using a weapon or gang-related, you hunt it down, you track it down, you follow it wherever you need to follow it. You do it legally, and then you haul it to jail. We set a standard that says you violate one of these three areas, we’re coming after you. And that’s when you prioritize that and you tell that to your rank and file and they understand that, it gives them focus and direction, and I think that’s the driving force in driving some of our violent crime rate down.

Q – You have anything that you wanted to do that you haven’t been able to get to yet?

A – Yeah, there’s some things, and that’s really where I’m at into the next four years. We’ve looked at what is our biggest trend. We dealt with the violent crimes. We’ve had some homicides in Lyon County, but the drug deal over marijuana that went bad in Dayton a couple months ago, we got those five juveniles now in the adult system, over marijuana.

We just couldn’t get there yet, but I want to expand the MOST team to domestic violence, targeting behavior in domestic violence. I want to use some lessons learned from our MOST team and spread that into our school resource officers that we put out there, and dealing with bullying and other aggressive behaviors out there in the school ground, and can we pair them up with the school Licensed Clinical Social Worker, the LCSW, and expand that? Domestic violence and bullying are two of the areas we didn’t get to and I’d like to expand that into the next four years and try to focus on that.

We got our first kind of quasi traffic cop with our two canines that we brought in the last four years. We were able to put one out and that canine officer is now my one truly kind of dedicated traffic cop. Highway safety and fatalities are a growing problem all across Lyon County, so can I increase some traffic cops out there? The guys are in the neighborhoods, that’s where I need patrol deputies, but to deal with that I’m going to need some resource increases to deal with the traffic safety and that’s something we’re going to have to face sooner or later.

Q –How does the school resource officer program tie into the entirety of patrol?

A – It’s important to understand. I’ve said this numerous times, when I sat there and I pushed the program on our workforce, many of my senior leaderships said no, no, no, we can’t do it. And I had the vision of saying this is where we have to be for tomorrow, and they were only thinking about today. And today those same naysayers are saying ‘Don’t you ever pull those cops out of the schools,’ because they’re seeing what I saw two years ago.

So the vision of it is this. You still have crimes in the schools, so you’re going to take a deputy off the street to go deal with the crime at the school. It’s never going to go away. Well, now we’re keeping the deputies in the neighborhoods where they need to be and they don’t have to deal with the crimes in the school.

That SRO has such great latitude because again, you give them the focus. You say if it sells drugs, if it commits sex crimes and if it commits an act with a violent weapon or gang-related, you bring that juvenile into the juvenile system. The idea here is we want the resource office to break what’s called the school to prison pipeline. Once you get them into the juvenile probation system, they become educated by other like-minded individuals, and it’s hard for them to break out of  that juvenile justice system, and so the criminality then takes it a little bit further and when they become an adult, fearful of cops and law enforcement, they’ve learned how to be more creative in how to commit crimes, and they distrust a lot of people in general. That’s not a good citizen that we want to grow in our schools.

So the job of the resource officer, is if it doesn’t crawl into that area, build a relationship. Build a trust and change their behavior, shape them into a leader for tomorrow. It’s changed their behaviors and attitudes, because what their parents may be telling them about cops, they’re finding for themselves that’s it’s totally different, so we’re breaking that cycle for future generations because when they turn 18, instead of dealing with them as a criminal that we put into that system, we’re now dealing with them as great citizens and productive members of our community.

But I want to close with this on the resource officers, what many people don’t understand. We can put all of the security measures in schools in place. We can build the biggest barbed wires around our schools, but, all of the school shootings are from kids within. And who better than to know, if he builds the relationship with the kids, that the kids know something’s not right, and talks to the resource officer? It’s the cop there that picks up on the cues and clues we have a potential shooter, to help keep our schools safer. And that’s why we’re investing into the resource officer, instead of all the razor wire and walls around our schools. The worst fear of mine I ever would have is a school shooting in this county.

Q – What about anything that you’ve either done in the four years that didn’t work, or that you want to change?

A – I do say this, and somebody asked me what’s the one thing, communication with my own organization. I, as the sheriff, have got to find some strategies within the organization to better enhance and improve our flow of communication within the organization. The ideas that I’ve discussed with you, there’s no doubt in my mind that those are good ideas, those are well thought out thoughts, and yeah, I can get behind them. I can’t obviously sit down and have a conversation like with you, or one on one for 125 or 130 employees. I’ve got to rely on my subordinate leadership to communicate those, but the last four years we had some serious communication issues with some of our leaders. And one of the things we’ve got to look at is we’ve got to fix those problems or we’ve got to change the leadership within the organization.

Q – With Field Services Commander Ed Kilgore retiring, is that going to change your leadership structure, or are you going to plug somebody else into that position?

A – We put Johnny Smith, Lt. Smith up here in Fernley, he’s the acting commander because the middle of the election is going on. I didn’t think it was fair to him or anybody else because of the election, to make it a permanent position.

I still believe there will be a commander in charge of field services over patrol, which, the way I structure my command is you have the field services, which is how do you manage an incident. So you’ve got that cold zone, which is the outer perimeter of an incident, so that’s who I look to, to manage the cold zone. So he or she needs all the resources to be able to manage that and isolate or contain that incident. That includes the Search and Rescue, the technology team, our chaplains, our Volunteers in Policing and all of our patrol operations under that one commander. And then you’ve got your hot zone. Your hot zone is, whether that’s the crime scene or whether that’s the incident or the active shooter, who controls that. That’s why I’ve got my commander Rob Hall with investigations and in charge of the SERT team and the crisis negotiation team to be able to control that.

So I don’t know if there’s going to be any major changes in my command structure. I think we owe it to ourselves as an organization, which we will do, we did it four years ago, we will do it again, we will go through a staff planning process and a mission analysis after the election. We will look at our missions, our taskings, our assumptions, as an organization, what resources we have. We can prioritize that and then we can look and say how we command and control that and what is the approach to do that, and then we build our command staff accordingly, So we don’t build our command staff down, we figure out what we’ve got to do, and we build accordingly based upon what we have available.

Q – Any general statement you want to make as far as why people should re-elect you?

A – I’ve got a proven track record. I didn’t take political expediency anywhere. I pushed deputies up north to Fernley and Dayton. I sat there and I said if you want to keep your crime rates low in Yerington and Silver Springs, you’ve got to secure the crime areas in Dayton and Fernley, and that’s what we did. We pushed everything that we had available north.

There’s always discussions on substations. There’s a lot of false narrative out there. But I think it’s important for people to understand this, is that I cut administrative cost. I’ll say that again. I cut administrative cost to put more deputies on our streets and fix the jail staffing crisis without any additional budgets during the last three years. I think that’s important for the voters to know. If you want a real fiscal conservative that’s not afraid to make hard decisions, that’s where I was at. So taking those administrative costs, transferring them to people for more deputies out on the street, more jail staffing to fix that problem that was grossly understaffed, and we grew it. We’ve grown our dispatch, we’ve done a great, phenomenal job within our existing budget without saying I need five or 10 more million dollars to put all these services into place.

I think that’s important for the voters to understand, that I’m a leader who can make a decision, that our decisions are based on data-driven, to be able to push our resources where they are needed most. I would be miffed to say that if the election goes the other way, you can almost guarantee that some of these deputies are heading back south, because it makes people down south feel warm and fuzzy.

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