‘I will not lecture the person and write them a ticket.’
A handful of people who are used to seeing my byline on a more regular basis have asked me if I’m on vacation. I’m not.
I’m working a series of stories on rural law enforcement. The project has taken me away from some of the daily crime reporting duties for Sioux Falls, but it promises to take me out of town quite a bit over the next month or so.
The idea is to paint a picture of what law enforcement looks like in a small town or county and to explore the problems and challenges for the officers, the community and the state in terms of keeping the rural public safe.
The first trip out of the city came Friday, when photographer Emily Spartz and I traveled to Alexandria to spend a few hours with Hanson County Sheriff Randy Bartlett.
Bartlett’s county has 3,600 residents, whom he refers to as “3,600 bosses,” so he sees the difference between chasing crime in a city and policing a rural community every day.
Interestingly, he doesn’t even need the job. He’s collecting a pension that came after years working in a suburb of Minneapolis, and he started his career in Los Angeles.
He says he enjoys the small town work more, because instead of dealing with a small number of lawbreakers, he gets to know and work with “90 percent of the people 90 percent of the time.” He’s moved cattle back into a local farmer’s pasture, caught lost dogs and served civil papers to residents on either end of the economic scale. That’s in addition to serious crime, such as the 2009 homicide he worked as a deputy.
The key to making things work in a rural setting, Bartlett said, is to show respect to every person you encounter. If you “leave a bad taste in someone’s mouth,” he explains, it will come back to haunt you.
“If somebody mistreats you, you’re going to tell 10 people. If someone treats you well, you might tell one person.”
In this video clip, Sheriff Bartlett offers his philosophy on writing speeding tickets: Lecture the driver or give them a ticket. Don’t do both.