Law enforcement moved out of the television and into real life when Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano visited teacher Andrew Cochrane’s social science classes.
Giordano talked candidly with students, answering questions honestly and humorously, while keeping them spellbound for more than an hour.
Asked about what he most wanted to convey to the students, the sheriff didn’t hesitate: “We (law enforcement officers) are just humans like anyone else. We’re your friends and neighbors. We are just people.”
Giordano said the sheriff’s department’s core mission is still much the same as it has always been: “Stop people from hurting other people and stealing from them,” he said.
But, he also noted that times have changed, and the digital age of instant communication has added a new dimension to law enforcement.
“Our core mission is still to keep people safe, and the way we do that is still to put people in jail, but now we also need to get out to people what we do and why we do it.
“The more you know about what I do, the better it is for me. The more I know about what you want from me, the better it is for you.”
Giordano said the biggest problem facing law enforcement is drug and alcohol abuse. “There are very few crimes we’re associated with that are not drug or alcohol related,” the sheriff said. “Bad things happen when you use drugs or drink too much.”
Asked about the recent protests and the so-called “War on Cops,” Giordano reminded students that protests are nothing new. “They are part of the American culture,” he said. “It comes with our freedom. It is an American’s right to protest and that’s good.”
It is when they get out of hand is when law enforcement has to step in.
“Some of the protests we had in the ’60s were just as violent,” he maintained.
A change, he said, is that the police are now under closer scrutiny. “Now, people come up to you and when you say, ‘hello,’ they say, ‘I’m videoing you.’ ”
The sheriff said the major problem today isn’t the legitimate protesters. “Our biggest problem is the professional protesters who come in to deliberately start violence,” he explained.
He said law enforcement’s strategy is simple — “divide and conquer,” explaining that the idea is to keep the troublemakers away from the legitimate protesters so the violence doesn’t spread.
Giordano shared that officers are trained to not show emotions. “The best cops are the best people persons. They have to deal with people in all kinds of situations and control their emotions.”
He explained that often when people see a deputy yelling at someone it is not because they are really mad. “They teach us to yell and get in people’s face to stop a fight. To do that, you can’t let your personal emotions get in the way.”
A question that caught the attention of the students was the one about how deputies handle teenage parties that are getting out of hand.
“We prefer to show up and tell them once to shut it down,” he said. “We also tell them that, if we come back they are going to be billed for our response. That usually gets their attention.”
Giordano acknowledged that at times the job can be stressful and depressing, but said what keeps law enforcement officers doing what they do are, “Those positive moments. You don’t focus on the negatives. Our job is to help people in difficult situations, and you focus on those positive moments when you are able to help people.”