Although I and many others wish that it had always been so, if Captain Jim Wilmeth is any indication of the current state of local law enforcement, We-the-People are in good hands. During a recent conversation with Captain Wilmeth, he expressed to me what he called a growing nationwide movement within many Sheriff’s departments; a movement away from viewing citizens and merely ‘potential lawbreakers’ and back toward the original intent of peacekeeping as indicated in the US Constitution. He also identifies the problem posed by federal law enforcement agencies, as their largely unconstitutional incursion into local law enforcement continues. Below is my interview with Jim.
Sher: Thanks so much for speaking with us, today, Jim. You are running for Sheriff of Lea County, NM. But, I must say that it was word of your beliefs about the US Constitution that caused me to want to interview you. After talking with you, I found it refreshing and heartening to hear that you are a true Constitutionalist–something that appears to be increasingly rare with many in law enforcement, today. Would you give the readers a little bit of your professional background?
Jim: Sure. I have served as a Peace Officer for the last 25 years. I started my law enforcement career as a 17 year old, when I joined the US Air Force to be a Security Policeman. Since then, I have served as a city police officer, a Special Agent for the US Army Criminal Investigation Command, and as a jailer and deputy in two Sheriff Departments. I am presently a Captain in the Lea County Sheriff Department, having served as a Deputy, Investigator, Sergeant, Lieutenant and Captain. I command the Internal Affairs Division as well as being recently assigned over operations, which includes patrol and investigations. I hold dual Masters of Science Degrees in Curriculum and Instruction, and Administration, and conducted an eight year study of my department and its interaction with our communities while completing my degrees. I have always seen my profession as a critical source of protection for the Constitution and the rule of law.
Sher: You say that, rather than a Libertarian or Conservative, you consider yourself a Constitutionalist. You also said that you are a man of faith rather than religion. Please tell us how you arrived there and what these positions mean to you–from both a personal and professional perspective.
Jim: Lets start with my being a man of faith because quite frankly, that is the more important of the two for me. As a young man, I struggled a great deal with trying to reach an understanding of faith that allowed for the many religious dogmas, their denominations and their varying translations of biblical passages. I reasoned that my Creator had to have a purpose for this. I soon came upon a copy of “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth” by Thomas Jefferson. While I didn’t necessarily feel comfortable with all its design, the concept of peeling away the fallible writings and interpretations of men, while concentrating on the actions and words of Jesus, pointed me in the right direction I think. From that time I studied the Holy Books of all the major religions, reflected and prayed for understanding of their intent, and then I asked God to help me come to some measure of peace about it all.
The process resulted in my becoming a man of faith. I have faith in my Creator, faith in the salvation afforded me individually through Jesus Christ, and faith that we humans are more good than bad. I came to accept that we are all broken in some way or another and the grace of God is what redeems us. Beyond that, I came to believe our life is a series of events intended to bring us closer to God in unique and personal ways. Obviously this approach did not lend itself to my total acceptance of any particular dogma, but I discovered these concepts through my own reflections and God’s guidance so it is deeply personal and individual for me. I don’t expect anyone to ascribe to the very same articles of faith, because I discovered I could find things to agree with in every faith, as well as interpretations that I did not believe were right for me, but could be right for others. By the way, the path I took to define my personal faith also created a habit in me to be objective about what I was studying and view things through multiple perspectives.
Becoming a Constitutionalist was a similar journey. I was born into a fiercely independent family, raised by parents who wanted their children to develop their own conclusions and fight for what they believed in. Our individual rights were stressed along with the responsibilities that accompanied them. I also happened to love history and read a great deal about the societies that rose and fell before the creation of our Republic. As a result, I developed an extreme sense of justice; that curious mixture of reason and action that mingles morals, ethics, faith and education into a desire to render to people their just due without distinction.
The longer I spent as a law enforcement officer, the more convinced I became that our processes and relationships with our communities just felt wrong. Gaining compliance from a community by appearance and veiled threats or control didn’t seem to be a very efficient way of working to me. I became so frustrated with the mechanisms used by my profession that I decided I was going to quit and become a teacher. But as I took my classes, I always found myself applying my research and practical exercises to the Sheriff’s Office where I was still employed. In the end, I didn’t leave the department; instead I just had a much better understanding of its strengths and weaknesses. It didn’t take me long to realize the major weaknesses in my profession either; we did not understand the Constitution well enough or follow its principles as well as we should. So I became a scholar of sorts of the Constitution, and began researching the whole concept of law enforcement as we know it, and how the Founding Fathers would have accounted for a peacekeeper in our society.
For me the Bible serves as the perfect companion to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Everywhere you look in the Old and New Testaments, you will find references and teachings that are mirrored in the Declaration and the Constitution. My favorite part of the Constitution is the Bill of Rights. Not because it is a list of restrictions upon the government, but because they happen to be a perfect guideline for how a law enforcement officer should perform his duty while retaining the respect of the community in which he works.
Sher: It has been said that in many if not most instances, the US Constitution provides more power to Sheriffs than to the federal government. You also say that–contrary to what the current Washington D.C. regime would have us believe–it is We-the-People who ultimately have the power in the United States of America. Please give us your point of view on how this is provided in our second founding document.
Jim: Well actually, I have to give a nod to the Declaration of Independence first which states “…Governments are instituted by men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Next the Preamble of the Constitution established We the People created our government under our own authority and utilized the Constitution as the legal means by which to define the character and powers of that government.
Now police power is commonly recognized as an executive power, because it entails the authority to make sure something happens or to enforce laws, and Article 2 defines the executive powers of the federal government. So if those activities we commonly recognize as law enforcement were powers granted to the federal government, the Constitution would enumerate that power in Article 2; it doesn’t. Next, lets examine Article 6 where we find the requirement that all executive officers of the federal government and of the respective states are to be bound by an oath or affirmation to support the Constitution. This establishes without question that the FIRST and FOREMOST duty of any government official is to protect the Constitution. We then look at the 9th Amendment which says rights not specifically afforded the people are not relinquished simply because they are not mentioned by the Constitution; they remain in place. The 10th Amendment then declares unequivocally that powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states are reserved for the states or to the people. Essentially, these amendments establish the federal government may only exercise those powers it has been granted by the people through the Constitution. This is absolutely critical to understand. The federal government DOES NOT possess Constitutional authority to vest itself with new powers. It may only exercise powers the people specifically grant it. For a new power to be afforded the federal government lawfully it would have to be assigned through an amendment.
Now if we add to this line of reasoning the fact that US Federal and State courts have consistently ruled police powers (such as the usual law enforcement, fire protection or other public safety duties) are a Reserved power of the states, basing their argument on the 10th Amendment, one is left with this finding; state and local police powers are vested by the people in state and local law enforcement, and such power remains with the states and the people as a part of the checks and balances set in place by the Founding Fathers to curtail usurpation of power by the federal government. If you add to this reasoning the fact that your County Sheriff is the only law enforcement officer elected through the Constitutionally defined process of a General Election, you will come to this inescapable conclusion: The County Sheriff, as the direct representative of the people, having sworn an oath to support the Constitution and vested by the people with the authority to enforce law and keep the peace, exercises a level of authority second to only one other group – the people themselves. The federal government exercises no authority over them whatsoever. On the contrary, it is the duty of the County Sheriff to allow or refuse to permit federal activities within his jurisdiction based on the constitutionality of such actions, because his primary purpose is to defend the people’s rights and keep the peace.
Sher: Please tell us how you see law enforcement continuing to be led away from the US Constitution by those in power in D.C. and how you would bring it back to the position of the original intent of our founders.
Jim: Well, in my opinion, three basic methods have been used to draw local law enforcement away from its original character. We see them as a combined methodology beginning in the early 1920’s and continuing through today. These methods are: usurpation of authority; bribery; and elitism.
By usurpation of authority I am referring to the blatant assumption of authority and exercise of power by federal agencies, which is made worse by an utter failure on the part of local law enforcement to challenge such actions. Waco and Ruby Ridge are notable examples of this method.
Bribery refers to the massive amount of funding offered to local law enforcement by the federal government in the form of grants. Local agencies become dependent on such grants and become increasingly more compliant to criteria set by the federal government. Over time, this creates a sense in local agencies that the federal agency exercises more authority because it holds the purse strings. For example, agencies which accept federal grant monies from the Department of Justice (DOJ) must meet reporting requirements and carry out certain activities that support the DOJ’s nationwide crime-fighting strategy; even if those activities have nothing to do with the actual crime issues the local agency faces, otherwise it risks losing funding.
Last of all is elitism. Federal agencies, most notably the Federal Bureau of Investigation, market themselves as premier law enforcement entities. The FBI goes so far as to sponsor a National Academy for law enforcement managers to attend. This is a sort of “favored few” club, and it has developed a mystique about it. Members of the FBINA tend to hire one another, advance each other’s agendas, and support federal plans ahead of local interests. Further, federal law enforcement agencies promulgate intelligence that consistently attacks the concept of militias within the states and encourages local agencies to disconnect from their local communities. Even as they provide grants for “community oriented policing”, they stress that citizens can be a threat to the law enforcement officer and should be treated with some level of suspicion.
Sher: Thanks so much for your time and thoughts, Jim. From the perspective of any true Constitutionalist, they are very hastening! Jim can be contacted via his website http://www.wilmeth4sheriff.com/.
Sher Zieve is an author and political commentator. Zieve’s op-ed columns are widely carried by multiple internet journals and sites, and she also writes hard news.
Her columns have also appeared in The Oregon Herald, Dallas Times, Sacramento Sun, in international news publications, and on multiple university websites. Sher is also a guest on multiple national radio shows.
Sher can be reached at Sher_Zieve@yahoo.com
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