Culpeper Sheriff Scott Jenkins’ unfortunate decision to have deputies attend a counter-terrorism seminar run by a controversial ex-FBI agent shouldn’t be written off by some as an inadvertent case of political incorrectness. It is much more than that, and suggests the sheriff might be a candidate for some sort of awareness training himself.
Culpeper County residents can judge for themselves whether they think that having 20 deputies and staff members spend three days in a classroom is a good use of their taxpayer-funded salaries, especially after the accrediting agency said in-service credit would no longer be provided for the training. Rappahannock Regional Criminal Justice Academy made the decision, director Mike Harvey said, “based on first-hand knowledge of this training.”
Certainly it’s worthwhile for law enforcement officers in any jurisdiction to have some counter-terrorism awareness—even in a largely rural county of 50,000 people. But there are more efficient and less controversial ways to go about it.
To his credit, Sheriff Jenkins said other, more mainstream training will be provided as well. But when the issue was first raised about the seminars’ appropriateness, the sheriff’s choice of a combative, “no intention of backing down” posture suggests an unwillingness to think twice about his decision, even though it’s brought a more sustained backlash than he apparently anticipated.
The primary issue here is with the person who leads the seminars—ex-FBI agent John Guandolo, who resigned from the agency under less than agreeable circumstances. He is labeled a “notorious anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist” by the Council on American–Islamic Relations, according to a report by Watchdog.org’s Virginia bureau. Guandolo’s program is described as a primer in Muslim stereotyping.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremists groups, questioned Sheriff Jenkins’ judgment in “getting involved with such a disreputable figure.”
Sheriff Jenkins acknowledges getting acquainted with Mr. Guandolo during a “two- or three-minute conversation,” and not until the uproar began did he decide to actually research Mr. Guandolo’s background.
What he learned did not dissuade the sheriff from moving ahead with the program, apparently because he not only sees value in what Mr. Guandolo will have to say, but he also trusts his deputies to have wisdom enough to reject the sort of questionable perspectives that earned Mr. Guandolo the reputation that preceded him.
What Sheriff Jenkins should take away from this is that not every idea he has is necessarily a good one. Certainly periodic, assorted training opportunities are important for sheriff’s office deputies and staffers, but that doesn’t mean all training is worthwhile or appropriate.
Perhaps the sheriff will also realize that despite his good intentions and his assertion that he has taken the reaction seriously, there are times when the best thing to do is actually accept advice from credible sources when it is so swiftly and categorically offered.