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

Valley News Columnist
Published: 5/8/2022 8:26:46 AM
Modified: 5/8/2022 8:25:04 AM

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 U.S. law enforcement. Women make up less than 13% of full-time police officers in the U.S., 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.

Having joined the department in December, Marshall is still a rookie. But she enters the profession with her “eyes wide open.” Her dad, now retired, was a longtime trooper and detective with New Hampshire State Police.

By the time she had finished 16 weeks of training at New Hampshire’s police academy in Concord, Marshall was ranked in the top 10 academically of the 67 graduates. (I didn’t hear that from her; Stiegler posted it on his Facebook page.)

Marshall opted for a career in law enforcement and a job with a starting annual salary of about $54,000, after working in the Superior Court clerk’s office, one floor above the sheriff’s quarters, in North Haverhill.

“People don’t really know what the Sheriff’s Department does,” Marshall said.

I’d go even further. Because sheriff’s deputies aren’t leading drug busts or overseeing homicide investigations, I think a good portion of the public doesn’t consider them real cops.

But their role shouldn’t be underestimated. Deputies spend a fair amount of time tracking down people who are on the lam for outstanding warrants. In civil cases, they get stuck with a lot of dirty work. Once a landlord has taken the legal steps to get an eviction, deputies are given the unpleasant task of making sure the tenant moves out whether they’re ready to or not.

“Typically when people see us, they’re having a bad day,” Marshall said.

A big part of a deputy’s job involves driving people who have been arrested from a local police station to the county jail or their initial court appearance. Deputies also transport offenders incarcerated outside Grafton County to and from the courthouse.

“You have to remember that everyone in the back seat is still a human being,” Marshall said. “It’s important to treat them with respect.”

Last year when Stiegler had two deputy openings to fill, he started with a pool of 12 applicants. Six didn’t show up for the first day of physical fitness testing, which includes a 1.5-mile run, and two failed to meet the state’s minimum fitness standards.

“Recruiting has become very challenging,” Stiegler said.

It’s also required the people in law enforcement who do the hiring to develop new strategies. “The days of bringing out a state police helicopter or an armored vehicle to job fairs are in the past,” Stiegler said. “Younger people aren’t impressed.”

That’s encouraging. For police reform in this country to have a chance, a new generation of officers will need to keep their weapons holstered and their voices heard.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.




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