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Sheriff McGuffey Takes On Use Of Force, Community Engagement In First 100 Days

charmaine mcguffey
Jolene Almendarez
Then-new Sheriff Charmaine McGuffey at a news conference in November following her election win.

Hamilton County Sheriff Charmaine McGuffey made national headlines after being the first openly LGBTQ sheriff in Ohio and running on a progressive platform. It's been 100 days since she took office and, she said during a Facebook Live Q&A, she's made changes for the betterment of the department and community.

McGuffey pointed to a round pin on her uniform that at least 100 county officers are wearing now -- an Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement, or ABLE, pin that signifies completion of the training.

"It is an eight hour training course that empowers officers to intervene when we see something go wrong, when we see somebody losing their temper, when we see somebody not using good police tactics (and) not doing the appropriate things," she said. "We are empowered to intervene." 

McGuffey says the training is meant to decrease use of force incidents by creating a culture of de-escalation within the department.

Roughly 900 officers will be taking the training, she says, and the public will eventually be invited to partake in the course alongside law enforcement.

"We want the public to come and attend our ABLE training classes, our de-escalation classes, right beside our officers so that you can get a real time idea of what this means and what kinds of de-escalation we're talking about here," she said.

Other moves for community outreach include efforts to create the department's first citizens advisory review board and a hotline-style number to help people navigate the judicial process.

For instance, she talked about a woman who was frustrated trying to figure out the details of a domestic violence case.

"She was quite angry, to be honest with you. She had been the victim of harassment; true victim of domestic violence. And she really was floundering in our system and couldn't get some of those dots connected regarding protection orders, and going to court because she really was being harassed and quite frankly, very seriously so," McGuffery said. "So you know, she's in fear. And she landed in our office because she just was bouncing from office to office to office."

McGuffey says other changes she's made include providing incarcerated people with adjustable masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and equipping deputies with the resources to connect people being evicted with rental assistance services.

In the coming months, McGuffey says she plans to create a culture change at the Hamilton County jail to make it a "place where you walk in the door, and you immediately notice that there are people there to help you with your circumstance."

That means focusing on people's physical and mental well-being to help them move on with their lives after incarceration.

"There are some bad people that come into this place, but our goal is not to have bad people leave this place," she said.

Jolene Almendarez is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who came to San Antonio in the 1960s. She was raised in a military family and has always called the city home. She studied journalism at San Antonio College and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's been a reporter in San Antonio and Castroville, Texas, and in Syracuse and Ithaca, New York.