Valley News – Jim Kenyon: Grafton County sheriff’s deputies may signal a new kind of cop

As a new deputy with the Grafton County Sheriff’s Department, Jill Myers was issued a stun gun, pepper spray and a 9 mm Glock.

But when Myers is making an arrest — more often than not on a charge of failing to appear in court — or assisting local police on a domestic disturbance call, she’s found something else in her arsenal much more effective at de-escalating tense encounters.

“Your voice is your best tool,” Myers told me. “It’s all in your tone and your choice of words.”

That’s music to my ears.

Law enforcement has enough wannabe cowboys and macho ex-military with an us-against-the-world mentality.

I’d like to think Myers and Elizabeth Marshall, another recent hire of Grafton County Sheriff Jeff Stiegler, represent a new generation of law enforcement officers.

For starters, they’ve earned four-year college degrees. (A 2017 national study showed only 30% of officers have four-year degrees.)

Why does that matter?

A 2014 Michigan State University study indicated a “college degree significantly reduces the likelihood that officers will use force as their first option to gain compliance.”

Myers, 27, and Marshall, 31, also belong to a segment of the law enforcement community that embraces the use of body cameras to increase police accountability. And if individuals whom police encounter know their actions are being recorded, their behavior can change for the better as well.

“Cameras certainly can defuse a situation,” Marshall said.

When Stiegler started out in law enforcement in the 1980s, dashboard cameras in cruisers — the forerunner to 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.

Along with having dashboard cameras in their cruisers, Myers and Marshall wear body cameras. The department currently has only four, but all deputies will get 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 US law enforcement. Women make up less than 13% of full-time police officers in the US, 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 sheriff’s department from Littleton, where she started out as a patrol officer before getting promoted to detective.

Married with three children, the youngest 3 months old, Myers wanted to move to the sheriff’s department, where it’s a “little slower pace.” Full-time deputies tend to work Monday through Friday with part-timers picking up weekend shifts.

But no matter where you work, policing doesn’t change. she told me. An officer’s conduct — in and out of uniform — is always open to public scrutiny. “It’s life in a fish bowl,” said Myers, whose starting annual salary is about $62,000.

Stiegler, who was elected in 2018, after serving as police chief in Bradford, Vt., called Myers a “seasoned cop” who is a “great mentor” for Marshall.

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