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 Hunewill, edited only for grammatical and clarity purposes. Any factually incorrect statements are the sole responsibility of the candidate.
Q – What made you decide to run for Sheriff?
A – I’ve spent my entire career working here for the Sheriff’s Office and I saw some things in the past, and even currently, that I didn’t think we were doing the best we could. The biggest thing is, I thought we need to take care of ourselves more than we need to take care of the world. In other words, we’re so focused on what’s going on outside of our box that we’ve kind of neglected what’s going on in our box, and that has to do with the personnel in the Sheriff’s Office. I’m all about the guys, and that’s apparent that they’re standing behind me because the association just voted unanimously to support me.
Because I do believe in our employees. If you don’t have the employees behind you, all the things that you come up with that you want to accomplish in the county and for the citizens of Lyon County, you’re never really going to be able to do that well without the support. One of the things they say in terms of any command structures, you always have to build the logistics behind you in order to do anything, and if you don’t have that, which we don’t have right now, you’re not going to be able to accomplish a lot.
The other thing is, I’m all about community-based policing. Are we ever going to be 100-percent community-based policing? No, because we can’t throw enough deputies at it to make it work. But getting the community involved, being more accessible to the community, I think is important. Having the substations open five days a week, full time. Because the face of the county is the deputies on the street and the substation secretaries, and we’ve got to work hard at trying to make those two points more accessible to the public.
I just wasn’t ready to give it up. I’ve devoted my entire career to the county and I still have something to give. I believe I can change the way we’re doing day to day actions and be a little bit more financially responsible. If all of your guys have equipment that they need to do their job on a day-to-day basis I think is more important than trying to fix something that’s outside of that box. We’ve come a long ways. We’ve got nice cars now, but we’re still lacking some basic equipment. You’re always going to be lacking manpower no matter what. That’s a budget thing and I think if you set your expectations a little more realistic, I guess that gets to my next point, I’m a reality-based person.
I base a lot of what I do as what I hear from the street, what I hear from the citizens, and I’m not so statistically driven. The statistics kind of give you a baseline for your operations and kind of give you a point at areas that you need to work on, but they’re not set up to run the way you do business.
So I guess the short answer to your question is I believe that we’re wasting a lot of money right now that I think we could spend in needed areas. I believe in the county, I believe in the system, I believe in the Sheriff’s Department. I think the Sheriff’s Department could be one of the best law enforcement agencies in the state of Nevada to work for if we can fix what’s going on inside of our own system first.
Q – What are some ideas you have of changes you might want to make?
A – I think we need to change our target focus. I’m in charge of the jail, and as of Sept. 22 there’s 93 people in there. Out of those 93 people, how many of those people do I think I can change the outcome of what they’re going to do? Pretty low percentage, and the reason being, I’m all in favor of programs, but programs are designed for a population group that’s more long term. You don’t have a lot of long term people in the jail. They’re in there for two weeks to 30 days. Sometimes you get a longer term in there, but where I’m going with that, I think we need to change our target to kids. SRO program is a wonderful program, but I think we need to expand beyond that. We’ve got to get more involved in the schools. It doesn’t matter it’s on career days or events that they’re sponsoring, doing show-and-tell in kindergarten classes, kind of trying to reach the kids at a younger age so you can try to change the outcome as they get older. That’s one thing. Getting an Explorer program started, working on a reserve program. We have to be able to use outside sources in terms of community members, programs that we reach out to get community members involved, programs that we reach out to get kids involved, and develop those so that we kind of change the perception as much as we can about the viewpoint of law enforcement. So it goes back to basics – be more accessible, bring greater service to communities themselves.
The other thing that I think is important is building up the central corridor of the county, Silver Springs for example. Growth is going to come to Lyon County and probably that’s the biggest area that’s going to be affected, once they figure out how to make it happen. We need to establish a dedicated squad to that area, which not only benefits Silver Springs and Stagecoach, but also benefits Dayton and Fernley too because you have a group of guys that are more centrally located to respond to all those areas.
Q – What about your idea for command structure. Would you make some changes there?
A – I think right now that we are heavy on the top side. To me there’s a huge disconnect between divisions right now. We need kind of condense that so that there’s not so many viewpoints on how to do things. I think different viewpoints are important, but you got to be able to focus on certain key areas and develop those key areas, and it’s hard to do that when your chain of command is so spread out. Plus I think we’re spending a lot of money on the command side that could go to hiring secretaries, so we’ve go to work on balancing that out and kind of condensing the span of control so there’s a little bit better flow with what’s going on and try to remove that disconnect between the command level and the line staff.
Q – You have the distinct areas of this county that have different needs. How do you tie that all together?
A – You said it, Lyon County is unique for two reasons – geography, and each of the communities has its own distinct culture. So what you’ve got to do is put certain deputies in certain areas that they work the best. In other words, if I assign a bunch of people to Silver Springs, it’s just better if they know the area and they know the people, because they can accomplish the job a lot better because they know where to go for sources of information, which people they need to pay attention to. And that goes back to creating the Silver Springs squad back.
Centralization of the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office is never going to work because two reasons. The main office is in Yerington. The Jail is in Yerington. Geography is a problem in Lyon County. There’s too much distance between all of the patrol areas, and the citizens in each area of the county are different in what their needs are. The way the cities and towns are set up, each one has its different needs. You have to address them all as individual areas. Fernley is set up pretty well right now. Dayton is set up pretty well right now. We have to work on the central section and on the south end of the county too. So you’ve got to just put people where they’re going to put everybody as a whole and get back to where we were four years ago. And were not talking about going back in time in terms of going back to wearing cowboy hats and cowboy boots and being the Wild Wild West, we have to really focus on what the needs of the area are and focus on the needs of each individual.
So the answer to your question there is, by closing the command structure down a little bit so you have individual areas that we’re in charge of and then you’re kind of pulling those resource to one central point, it will be easier to manage it instead of what we’re doing now.
The priorities of life are three basic concepts, life first, personnel second and then property. So if you change that in terms of law enforcement, so if we take care of ourselves first, take care of the community members second, and then worry about what’s going on in the world third, I think you’re going to see a system that works a lot better. Because if all the guys are coming to work because they want to come to work, not because they have to come to work, that’s going to transition to better attitudes on the street, which is going to end up being better community service.
Q – You mentioned the association that endorsed you. What do you feel it is about you that inspires them or that they want to support?
A – Basically, my work ethic. I’ve established a good rapport with obviously 90 percent of the people that are working, not because I’m smart or somebody special, but I’ve demonstrated my willingness to work with them, to listen to them, to focus on ideas that I think are realistic, not spend a whole lot of time on ideas that aren’t, treat them all with respect. I treat everybody with respect, and you’re talking about employees, citizens, other businesspeople, other agencies.
So I think just for the most part is what I’ve demonstrated over the last 25 years isn’t a façade. They see the real me, they know who I am and they know what type of personality I have and I build up that respect that they know I’m not going to do them wrong.
Q – You worked under Sid Smith, Allen Veil and now Al McNeil. Have you learned from how they’ve done things, what they’ve done right, what they’ve done wrong?
A – There’s two things that I have that the current sheriff doesn’t have. I have more law enforcement experience, and then I’ve worked under three different administrations so I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work, and why. I think that’s important, especially when you’re talking about what you talked about earlier in terms of each area has its own demographic differences, and I’ve worked all the areas in Lyon County at one point in my career. I’ve worked in Dayton, I’ve worked in Fernley, I’ve worked in Silver Springs, Stagecoach, Smith Valley, Mason Valley. So I’ve had first had experience and exposure to what is required in each area and I think every sheriff at some point has had some good ideas that have worked, and some that haven’t. But me being involved in all three administrations, Sid Smith for 12 years, Allen Veil for eight and now Al for the last three and half years, I’ve kind of got a good idea about what works and what doesn’t work, and I understand why it doesn’t work and I think that’s important.
Q – Would you probably go back to having an undersheriff, or would you structure things differently?
A – I would go back to having an undersheriff. Potentially two captains, and then kind of go from there. Because I think it’s important to have that chain of command established that if I’m not around, you have a single point of contact to go to. It’s been tried for years, it’s a system that has been established just about everywhere and it seems to work, so if a lot of other agencies are doing it, they’re not doing it because it doesn’t work. It works. And I think we need to go back to that.
Q – Your flyer says ‘Back to Basics.’ What does that mean?
A – That’s the point of it all. We’ve got to focus on just doing life necessities. Here’s my analogy. At home we make sure we have a place to live, make sure we have food, make sure we have clothing. Everything outside of that depends on what those first three things do.
So bringing accessibility and stability back to this agency I think is important. So if we get back to the basics, focus on our job first, and then once you get all the logistics in place and everything to be able to do something on the outside, then we can do that. We can’t just jump out and try to accomplish a task without having the backbone of support to do that. It comes down to sustainability. How long can you sustain an action if you don’t have logistic support behind it? You can’t. So I think we’ve got to focus on our basic job function, get that dialed in, then worry about venturing outside of that.
There’s two things that govern what we do – the county code and the NRS. That’s the job of the sheriff. We’re the referee in this whole big game. If I start taking sides on particular issues, then now all of a sudden I’m a nonpartial referee. I can’t go into any situation if I believe this is wrong and give a nonbiased opinion. So being nonpartial in crucial things that affect the sheriff’s department directly I think is important.
Q – Anything else in particular that you’d want to add?
A – Turnover. So if you can make the guys and gals want to come to work, versus have to come to work. We’ve got to do something about subduing the turnover rate. Because to take a deputy from hire date to training to on the street or in the jail, you’re talking about 18 months. That’s a lot of wasted resources if you’re continually trying to replace people who are leaving. Deputies don’t come to Lyon County to make money. There’s a lot of agencies surrounding us and outside that pays higher.
They come to us because of the benefits of working for Lyon County. And that goes back to what I said earlier. I think Lyon County has the potential to be one of the better law enforcement agencies to work for in the state, not because of money, but because of the fringe benefits. I’m in charge of recruitment, retention and hiring. I’ve hired 23 people in the last three years. Some of those were because of positions that were vacant were filled, six or eight of those, and there’s a couple that were retirements, so on the high side you’ve got 10 that were because of that. And the other 13 are just because people left. There’s 82 sworn (deputies) altogether. It’s a pretty big turnover, and they’re not leaving because they dislike their job, they’re leaving because of the circumstances. You don’t typically get into law enforcement unless you really, truly know that’s the direction you want to go.
To help eliminate some of that, I’m saying this over again, get back to the basics, give everybody the sense of ownership in what they’re doing, so it’s not just a job. They have an equal part in it. If we can bring back a sense of ownership in what they’re doing, I think you’re going to see people stay longer. So if you hire them, you train them, you motivate them, they’re going to stay. And honestly I can tell you that if things don’t change, we’re going to see a lot more leave and that’s unfortunate for the county as a whole.