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Jim Sharpe and Larry Dever at the press conference to kick off Border Sheriffs
As Sheriff Larry Dever's memorial service is tonight in Sierra Vista, I thought I would repost this blog entry - originally written the morning after the Sheriff's untimely death last week.
I will be making the drive to and from Southern Arizona alone - with my Creator and my thoughts.
I received a text from a mutual friend of Larry's and mine the other day that made me feel a little better about not getting to know Sheriff Dever better. It said, "He sure liked you."
The feeling is mutual, Larry.
Wednesday, September 19, 2012 -- The sudden, unexpected death of Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever came as blow to me. I hadn’t spoken with him in a while - and never felt like I got to know him in a way one wants to know men of great character.
I met Sheriff Larry Dever for the first time on March 28, 2010 - the day after his friend, Rob Krentz, was murdered on his ranch by a suspected illegal alien. It was a day when the national spotlight suddenly lit up the small Sheriff’s headquarters located just six miles from the Mexican border.
Instead of worrying about what to wear when the national network TV cameras showed up, or how to spin Krentz’s death to get re-elected (Larry hadn’t even decided whether to seek another term yet), Sheriff Dever talked briefly about the investigation with us and then kept his appointment to show Andrew Thomas and me the border.
We shot some video that day for a commercial that would kick off Andy Thomas’ campaign for attorney general and Larry was spot on. He answered the questions on-camera without wavering and did so while looking every bit the part of an Arizona sheriff: cowboy hat, Wrangler jeans, boots, a star of a badge clipped to his belt opposite his pistol and a little squint.
The answers, the attire and the demeanor wasn't an act, though. They were Larry.
Sheriff Dever was as authentic as they came. Whenever I explained the man to someone who’d never met him, I usually mentioned two things: he lived in the same small town he was born in (St. David) and he wore a cowboy hat - not for effect - but to keep the sun out of his eyes.
His comments on-camera were also authentic that day. But not just authentic. They were honed. Not honed in a big-city political consultant kind of way (his wife, Nancy, was his campaign manager). No, his answers were honed in a way that only years of watching the border spin out of control could do. In a way that only a parade of politicians who promised to do something about the border - and never did - could.
He received several calls from high-ranking government officials that day - I witnessed one from a US senator and one from Governor Brewer while we were out in the desert - and he told them all the same thing in the same respectful, yet plain-spoken way he used when to talking to anyone.
“When they asked me what they could do,” Larry said, “I told them, ‘Do what we’ve been asking for a long time: secure the border so the residents of my county can sleep tonight.’”
Larry often knew when drug and human smugglers were keeping folks awake because Cochise County residents would call him at his home using the phone number that was still listed in the phone book.
And that’s what I loved about Sheriff Larry Dever. He wanted to hear from folks. And not just the ones who voted for him or supported his runs for sheriff. All of them. He saw himself as a protector and a public servant of every resident of his county.
Despite what his critics said (the ACLU later sued him as well as Arizona’s other 14 sheriffs), he wasn’t looking to use SB1070 as a tool to lock up or harass people with a slightly darker skin tone than his. He wanted to use SB1070 as a tool to protect all the people of his county.
Even if he’d wanted to use SB1070 in such an abhorrent fashion (as suggested by those who sued his office), it wouldn’t have worked very well. You can’t spend your entire life in one place and then suddenly have your deputies start harassing people you went to school with. Not if they have your phone number.
The fact that Sheriff Dever died on the same day that the most controversial part of SB1070 took effect is beyond irony. He fought the ACLU and the Department of Justice all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States so that his deputies could inquire if someone was in the US legally only after they were stopped for some other reason - and only if the deputies had a “reasonable suspicion” to do so.
He testified in front of Congress, fought the federal government and took to the airwaves not for fame or fortune. He was too uncomplicated a man for that. Being sheriff of a county with about 135,000 people in it doesn’t make you a media darling. And the salary isn’t much to speak of.
So why did he talk about the border so much and put himself out there to be criticized?
The little I knew of Sheriff Larry Dever personally really makes sense when you read the mission statement of the Cochise County Sheriff’s Department. In it is a quote from Winston Churchill: "It is not enough that we do our best; sometimes we must do what is required."
Rest well, Sheriff Dever. And please ask God to send us someone to take up your watch.