Winter Storm Warnings and Other Inconveniences

WeatherWinter is coming and for those of us in the northern plains of the United States that means being prepared. Local weather stations are forecasting a major cold snap and snow beginning on Monday, signaling a sharp turn from Fall to Winter. In response to this, I have prepared a handy list to help you be prepared:

For the common sense group:

  1. Make sure you have enough of your important prescription medicines to last a couple of days.
  2. Look in your food pantry and refrigerator and reassure yourself that you have enough food for a couple of days.
  3. Drain and roll up your garden hoses.
  4. If you have a snow-blower, fuel it up and start it to make sure it runs.
  5. If you have a shovel, find it
  6. Locate your vehicle ice scraper and keep it handy
  7. Be prepared to help your elderly neighbor with shoveling or other needs
  8. You can find other extreme weather preparation advice here

For everyone else:

  1. Wait until the day before or the day of the storm, race to the grocery store and buy bread. Also potato chips, dip, beer, and any obscure video games that they may have in a surplus bin.  Pay careful attention to what other people are buying and buy it.
  2. Buy a gun and as much ammunition as possible.
  3. Buy a video game system and games.
  4. Research the phone numbers for the city Street Department, Mayor’s Office,guy-yelling-on-phone2 local newspaper and county or state Highway Departments in order to complain that your street wasn’t plowed fast enough, or at all.
  5. Practice composing Facebook posts using a sarcasm to English ratio of 3:1.
  6. Notice how quickly your neighbors shovel their sidewalks. Complain if they don’t.
  7. Don’t bother shoveling your sidewalk, the sun will melt it.
  8. As soon as the snow accumulation peaks, take your two-wheel drive vehicle on an errand-running rampage, or just for a drive.
  9. When you and your two-wheel drive vehicle are stuck (in the middle of the road) make note of the time. Count the minutes as hours. Use your smart phone to take dozens of photos, surf the internet and post to social media. Call 911. Demand that a snow-cat and the National Guard be dispatched immediately to rescue you. Use helpful phrases such as: “I pay your wages!” Or “How hard can it be to come push my car out of the drift.” When you get home, repeat step 5 above.
  10. Complain that the schools were closed, or;
  11. Complain that the schools were not closed
  12. Assure yourself that if you were in charge, things would be different.

Listen folks, we will have extreme weather this season. Contrary to what the White House believes, man cannot alter the climate.  Heck, we can barely respond to it most times.  It’s up to each one of us as individuals to stay calm, be responsible and think through these intense but temporary situations.

My advice: Watch the news, listen to the warnings of public officials and breathe.  It will be ok.

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The Justified ‘Militarization’ of America’s Police

Let’s talk about the militarization of America’s police. But first, let’s talk about something that may have led to this apparent technological and tactical shift over the past 60 years, especially the last 25 years.

Between 1950 and 2013 10,971 American police officers have been killed in the line of duty right here in our communities. They were not killed by foreign enemies, but were rather killed by and while serving the very citizens they were sworn to protect.

In the chart below, you will see the rise in police officer deaths from 1950 into the early 1970s. The peak was 1973 in which 280 police officers lost their lives on-duty. In the decades following, we see a gradual decline in officer deaths, until a sixty year low in 2013 of 105 officer deaths.

Also in the chart, 10 year U.S. Census data are displayed to show the increase in population over 60 years. Also, to demonstrate that the two sets of data are not necessarily related.

LEOD Chart

Clearly, efforts have been underway since the 1970s to reduce officer injuries and deaths.  Improved training and philosophy have centered on officer fitness, tactics, protective equipment and weaponry. Moreover, a survival, or warrior mindset has been the emphasis since the late 1970s and early 1980s. The term “officer safety” is heard more often than any other term during police training and heard often during field work.

An unintended consequence of the trend in safer practices may be a more aggressive, less trusting style of policing.  Police officers today face increased demands and are required to have greater split-second decision making ability than anytime in policing history. Hyper-vigilance is a known risk factor (and not necessarily a positive one) among police officers and in some cases, can hatch an us against them mentality that is akin to the demonizing of an enemy.  Police are entitled to protect themselves, but need to use good judgment in how they do so.  For example, the public we serve will not tolerate routine use of tanks or 50 caliber machine guns mounted on armored personnel vehicles.  There is a time and place for advanced, specialized equipment and tactics.

Armored vehicleThe so-called militarization of America’s police is a catchy way to acknowledge that civilian police agencies have begun to use assault weapons, armored personnel vehicles, exterior body armor and other tactical gear. Apparently some view this as a bad thing. Do some believe the concern for officer safety has run its course and should be reversed? Is there an acceptable death toll in the law enforcement business?  Critics don’t get to decide how the police arm or equip themselves because it’s not their lives on the line, but as in all things, there must be balance. Police officers should be allowed to protect themselves, yet the general (law abiding) public should not be made to feel afraid of them.

So is the “militarization” of America’s police a logical response to a progressive increase in deadly confrontations with violent offenders, or is it an overreaction with dangerous consequences?  I think it’s a natural progression, but one that must be accompanied with much thought and consideration.  Like all tools, it is important to know how and when to use them.

If military style equipment saves police officers lives, then good.  If critics don’t like it, tough.  America’s police officers are in fact, fighting a war.  A war against crime, disorder and the degradation of our communities.  The enemy looks like you and me and lives just down the street.

It’s ok to criticize the police, but if you do at least put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself if you would be willing to do what they do.

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Fanning the Flames of Ferguson

The situation in Ferguson Missouri started out as one thing, but is now another. What started out as a use of force by police has now evolved into a much larger social debate centered on racism, oppression and poverty. These are issues that not everyone can understand and are also issues the police cannot solve.

Watching the civil disorder on television news reports, elicits a strong reaction from both the law enforcement community as well as everyday citizens.

Unfortunately, the incident has now become a perfect environment for media agencies to compete with one another. The coverage by CNN and FOX News tend to cause a viewer ferguson lootersto believe there are two different incidents, rather than one. This is an unfortunate but understandable progression.

There have been countless news interviews with so-called “witnesses” to the shooting. Witness reports of the white police officer shooting an innocent unarmed black “child” for no reason; shooting him as his hands were raised; shooting him in the back as he ran away and shooting him on the ground after he was already down. There have been countless news videos showing looters in Ferguson as Spike Lee or Al Sharpton explain and justify the black community’s anger and distrust. This coverage is occasionally sprinkled with footage of armored police vehicles, police inSWAT officer in full tactical gear. riot gear or some police official saying too much or not enough. Needless to say, there is much to report on. I sometimes feel though, that our children are being trained that criminal acts like looting and arson are normal responses to unsettling police actions. If only there were more objective reporting taking place. If only truth were a virtue shared by the masses. If only peace were the goal, rather than uprising.

When a situation such as Ferguson elicits media competition with hot-button issues like race, there is nothing that can be done about it. But healing in Ferguson will have to wait until there is a better news story to report, or until the police officer is found guilty of something. Lost in the chaos are the grieving family members of both Michael Brown and Officer Darren Wilson. They have lost their moment to the circus atmosphere. The only element worse than the rioting and disorder in Ferguson is the knee-jerk and inflammatory responses from politicians. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon calling for “vigorous prosecution” of the [guilty] police officer. The United States Attorney General Eric Holder vowing that “change is on the way”.

Ferguson does not need the help of Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton or other self promoters. They need the good citizens of Ferguson to step up to the plate and start the healing. Communities can only be healed from within.

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The Marijuana Myth

This article was written by Kevin Thom, Sheriff of the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office in western South Dakota. 

With Colorado and Washington legalizing marijuana for personal use, and other states now permitting consumption of the drug for “medical” purposes, it makes sense to pose a key question: Is pot safe?

My answer is a resounding “No.”

Throughout my 36-year career in law enforcement, I have witnessed the often-devastating impacts of drug abuse from a front-row seat. The pro-marijuana lobby calls it a harmless plant. But statistics and experience tell us otherwise, and marijuana already has had a profound negative impact on society.


  • Fatal and serious injury accidents involving drivers high on marijuana increase in states that have medical or legalized marijuana. During the first six months of 2013, Washington State Troopers saw a 49 percent jump in positive tests for marijuana among drivers stopped for suspicion of DUI.
  • The U.S. Department of Justice reports that 50 percent of all on-the-job accidents and up to 40 percent of employee thefts are related to drug abuse.
  • Popular among youth, marijuana is a complicated, addictive drug that disrupts children’s brain development when used habitually. London’s Institute of Psychiatry estimated that at least 25,000 schizophrenics in the United Kingdom could have avoided the illness if they had not used cannabis.
  • Repeated marijuana use also adversely affects the lungs, liver, heart and reproductive organs.

Legalizing marijuana for “medicinal” use has so far been the most common policy step taken by states. There are marijuana derivatives used for legitimate medical treatment, based on scientific evidence. But most often the case for medical marijuana is rooted in anecdotal examples, not science.

And let’s be honest. For all their claims about wanting to use legalized weed to help the sick and dying, what the pro-pot folks really want is full legalization of their favorite drug. To get there they are spreading misinformation about its benefits and irresponsibly minimizing its risks.

Proponents also proclaim that legalizing marijuana can generate millions in tax revenue for government, a windfall many elected officials apparently find enticing. What they fail to acknowledge is this disturbing statistic: For every $1 in tax revenue generated by marijuana sales, it’s estimated that society will pay $10 to deal with the health impacts of marijuana use.

Marijuana supporters justify legalization by noting that two other potentially dangerous substances, alcohol and tobacco, are legal, so we shouldn’t fear adding weed to the list.

Alcohol kills 100,000 people annually, while tobacco kills another 500,000. Legal drugs are the largest contributors to health care costs in our country.

I am not suggesting we lock up every person who occasionally uses small amounts of marijuana. Jail alternatives, such as probation, community service or mandatory drug treatment, are appropriate for these offenders.

I understand that effective drug policy requires three core components: education/prevention, enforcement and treatment.

Proponents argue that legalizing marijuana would possibly reduce prices and thereby decrease criminal activity by users seeking to support their habit.

In fact, the black market for pot will not vanish, but bleed into other states. Already, black market marijuana from Colorado is turning up for sale in South Dakota.

Fortunately, those of us who call South Dakota home are not naive. And I’m confident that when our state is again asked to legalize marijuana for “medicinal” or personal use, we won’t fall for the smoke screen (intentional pun) perpetuated by those who foolishly claim it’s harmless for everyone to get high.


Prior to being elected to serve Pennington County in 2010, Sheriff Thom spent the prior 32 years serving in other South Dakota law enforcement agencies.  One of the agencies, the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation, gave the Sheriff many years of training and experience as a drug investigator.  He served as director of the agency for 3 1/2 years before retiring and preparing for the next phase of public service. 

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Gang members befuddled by new gun laws, seek legal weapons to kill each other with

This article comes to us from CNN with the dramatic headline:

Blame weak gun laws for holiday violence, Chicago’s top cop says

(CNN) — Chicago’s police superintendent lashed out at what he called lax state and federal gun laws after a violent Fourth of July weekend that saw more than 60 people shot and nine killed in a city already known for frequent shootings.

“There’s a greater sanction for the gang members to lose that firearm from their gang than there is to go to jail” for illegal gun possession, Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said after reciting the criminal histories of several of the suspects in this weekend’s violence.

Among the suspects: a man wanted in connection with a murder who has 21 prior arrests.

The incidents include eight times in which police fired guns at suspects or were fired on, McCarthy told reporters. In two of those incidents, police shot and killed the suspects, both of whom were 16.

McCarthy said the violence unraveled a string of successes by police in suppressing gun violence this year. The city saw 24 shooting incidents on Sunday alone, he said, although three of them may have been self-inflicted.

In 2013, 12 people died and 75 were injured during the four-day Independence Day holiday, according to CNN affiliate WLS.

The holiday shootings follow a week in which Chicago had 52 shooting incidents, according to Police Department statistics. This year, as of June 29, Chicago police had recorded 880 shooting incidents, an average of nearly five a day.

McCarthy said Monday, “It’s Groundhog Day here in Chicago.”

McCarthy said police will continue a summer program to flood high-violence areas with police, but he said that without stronger gun laws, police will continue to face an uphill battle.  “These offenders need to be held fully accountable for violent behavior to prevent them from ending up back on the street too soon,” he said, adding, “There’s too many guns coming in and too little punishment going out.”

If it’s true that tougher gun laws could result in less gun crimes, then the expected future CNN headline could read:

“Gang members befuddled by new gun laws, seek legal weapons to kill each other with”

GangsOne more time – Who obeys laws? That’s right, law abiding people. Who is killing people with guns in Chicago? Yes, criminals. There is a fatal disconnect in the thinking that hundreds of years after the invention of firearms, a man-made law restricting them can correct criminal thinking and behavior. The firearm is an available means to commit a crime and there are enough guns in America presently, to last criminals another 200 years. Even with martial law and door to door gun confiscation, the criminals will be the last ones armed… or maybe the preppers, but either way the point is – a law will not solve this problem.

Also disturbing is the Chicago Police Superintendent’s insinuation that tougher punishment could help this problem. America’s obsession with prisons has run its course; so much so, that citizens will tolerate higher crime rather than building more prisons.  A community has to have enough police resources in order to prevent crimes, or apprehend the offenders, long before a prosecution can occur.  The members of the Chicago PD need more officers, not more laws.

In 2012 the Chicago PD employed roughly 12,000 officers (FBI Uniform Crime Report, table 78) but that number has been going down for many years due to budget cuts. It’s scary that the cities that need more police officers are the ones seeing reductions. If Chicago isn’t careful, it will become the next Detroit.

If a city can’t afford police officers, they certainly cannot afford prisons.

Finally, in a city that has topped 500 murders annually, now they are celebrating better times, when the murder rate is “going down” to under 500. What an incredibly sad celebration for the 400 plus victims and their families each year.

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The Good Ol’ Boy System

Every now and then someone will complain about the good ol’ boy system either in politics or the workplace. The term is a synonym for cronyism. Although it really means appointing one’s friends, regardless of their qualifications, the complaint is heard when someone is appointed or promoted above others and critics have in their minds that there is something unjust about the action. The underlying feeling suggests perhaps favoritism, or unfair promotion practices.

There is a misconception that in order to be fair, employers must treat all employees the same – provide the same opportunities, same career path, same training etc. There is also a misconception that promotional interviews should be scored objectively, including the candidate’s appearance, demeanor and the content of answers to interview questions.

These misconceptions fuel an already ignorant understanding of successful leadership and management practices.

Although sports analogies are routinely abused in leadership examples… I’m using one anyway: When a track coach evaluates runners for a particular event, there is an evaluation that probably consists of… running. In a group of runners, some are faster than others. Their speed and ability to be competitive in a given event comes into the decision making process when building the team. It also likely helps the coach determine how much and what type of conditioning is needed by the individuals on the team. Not all team members can be the fastest runner, but they can still work toward that goal.

In the workplace, many employees face similar evaluations in their assigned field. The methods of evaluations are different, but the idea is the same. Employees who perform better than others naturally rise to the top. A good coach – or boss, will focus on the good performers rather than the average ones. A winning team is expected to compete, and win. Work is not a recreational sport – it’s a competitive one, with winners and losers.

So should the slower runners complain that the coach is playing favorites? Are the runners’ friends justified calling this the good ol’ boy system? Of course not, so why is it heard so often in the workplace? Because running a race ends in an objective conclusion – someone wins. The workplace (especially a government workplace) cannot have an objective conclusion, because the losers sometimes think they really won, or should have. Workplace evaluations are nearly all subjective and for good reason.

  • The employee meets the stated minimum qualifications (objective)
  • The employee may have to take a general knowledge test (objective)
  • The employee’s potential performance can best be predicted by his past performance (subjective)
  • The employee’s support and respect among peers and supervisors can best be evaluated by interviewing coworkers (subjective)
  • The employee’s productivity can best be measured by reviewing current and past performance evaluations or other reported data (part subjective, part objective)
  • The employee is judged to be a good fit in the new position (subjective)
  • The employee may have to submit an essay covering philosophical aspects of the job (subjective)
  • The employee has a good understanding of the agency mission and regularly pursues it (subjective)

It’s clear to me that the most important evaluation criteria are subjective in nature. Likewise, the employee has a subjective assessment of himself and his ability to perform the new job. Due to the prevalence of subjectivity (and jealousy), any such promotional process is rife with potential for controversy that cannot be avoided.

So what’s a private business or government agency to do? Pick the best people and invest in them. Identify the fastest runners and clear a path for them. Even the good ol’ boys would agree – this is just good business.

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On Local Politics

The local election results are in and I have to say – I am fairly satisfied. I’ve paid attention to local government for a while now; long enough to know something is wrong with the culture of our politics.  There are good people in politics, but I won’t be discussing them below:

I see the same thing happening time and time again. Local politicianaspiring politicians get into the game for some unholy reason or another, become infatuated with the pockets of support they discover and voila’! another local politician is born.

Quick analysis: Their motivation is born of narcissism.

During the campaign, their support base appears to grow. What they cannot see at this point, is the common denominator among their supporters. Still infatuated, they miss the fact that their new base shares a distrust of government and very likely some radical beliefs on what “conservatism” is.  Some will publicly link their beliefs with former President Ronald Reagan, although these similarities are certainly imagined.

Quick analysis: Their foundation is based on ignorance.

Once in a political race, they and their minions go to work to document and strategically prepare the collection of shortcomings, mistakes, quotes from and rumors about their opponent. Then the attack begins.

Quick analysis: Their strategy is fed by poor self-esteem.

Once the election occurs and the newcomer fails, they sulk. Some vow to get em’ next time, or look for another vulnerability in the skin of their opponent. Much like bacteria would do.  Even worse, some act as if they don’t care.

Final analysis: The political aspirations of these candidates never focus on the things that are needed and desired by the voters: Service and representation.

In the public sector, one either serves or steals from their constituents. There is no middle ground. This type of candidate makes mockery out of the concept of public servitude and capitalizes on the ambivalence, apathy and ignorance of the voters. In our society, there aren’t many citizens who study the issues and know fully well who they are voting for and why. What they focus on rather, are the surface issues of yard signs, attack ads and candidates waving at traffic.

If this is the future of politics, we are in for frustrating times. What is the solution? Educate candidates and current politicians about the needs of your city, county, neighborhood and family. Elect people who have a history of serving and Expect candidates to serve once elected. You don’t have to settle for anything less, but chances are you will.



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