By Valerie Reddell
Moments after taking office on Jan. 1, Sheriff Byron Lyons pledged to serve the entire community, not just those who helped him get elected as the county’s first African-American Sheriff.
Lyons served as the Chief Deputy throughout the tenure of his predecessor, Kenneth Hammack, but admitted that the full weight of the responsibility of taking office during trying times for law enforcement had just sunk in as the time came to take the oath of office.
Lyons hopes to use his lifelong residence in the community and his experiences as a black man in America to strengthen the relationship between his department and the community it serves.
“My goal is to treat everybody right, and make sure my department does the same,” Lyons said. “I’m not going to single out blacks or Hispanics and treat them any differently.”
Improving communication is one method Lyons pledges to use to bring deputies and the community closer together.
“If you stop communicating, relationships will falter, friendships fall to the side and it becomes one side against the other,” Lyons said. “My goal is to make sure that everybody feels that they’re being represented and treated fairly.”
Lyons added that his staff will use a community policing mindset to address community issues.
Community policing takes a broader view of community issues. The department works to address problems alongside civilian community members, rather than just responding to calls for service.
This broader perspective helps residents address fear and perceived risks in their neighborhoods. One precept of community-oriented policing is the “broken window” theory. Criminologists have found through several academic studies and practical experiments that visible signs of crime and antisocial behavior create situations that lead to more criminal activity.
The West End area of Livingston saw that theory become reality when Habitat for Humanity built several homes on Bluebird Street in 2010-2013. The new homes on Bluebird Street combined with cleanup efforts in the surrounding area not only made the community look better, but gave residents a renewed since of pride.
At the time, several law enforcement officials said the community renewal had reduced the calls for service and criminal investigations in the area.
“Once we build better relationships, it will fix a lot of the issues,” Lyons said. “When you forge relationships, friendships and share knowledge, there’s a much better understanding. After that, a lot of us will see that we really are not so far apart in our thinking and beliefs.”
Lyons said a lot of the gap can be bridged by fully communicating where the law stands on specific issues.
Lyons also has deep roots in the community and a family history of dedication to the community. Lyons first spent several years as a member of Polk County’s EMS service before deciding to attend the police academy.
He learned the importance of caring for others in all segments of the community from his mother, LaRue Marshall, who served as a nurse in Livingston for decades, often supervising care for all the patients hospitalized in Livingston.
“I have been here all my life. My family and my roots are here. I want to make sure that everybody feels comfortable and feels safe with the law enforcement staff and agencies that serve them here,” he added.
“You don’t know how honored I am to be the first black sheriff of Polk County, but also I want everybody to know that I am the sheriff for the whole county. The historic aspect of it means a lot to me, probably more than I can ever express,” Lyons said.
Finally, Lyons encourages anyone who feels they have not been treated appropriately by a law enforcement officer, to begin the complaint process in place to address that.
Lyons has experienced issues himself with how he was treated when stopped by police or shopping in a grocery store.
“I try to tell everyone to pursue that process if you feel like you have been wronged. Sometimes it’s tempting to try to deal with it in the moment, and that can go wrong in many ways,” he added.
“We’re in the middle of a Civil Rights era right now. Our forefathers accomplished a lot that allow us to have the freedoms that we have today. We just have to go down and file those complaints rather than stand on the side of the road and scream. Getting into a conflict does not solve the problem.
“You have the right to record – and anybody else can record – as long as you don’t interfere with, or get too close to the situation. Make that recording and then go to that office or that store owner and tell them you feel like you were wronged and this is why I feel like I was wronged. File an official complaint and then follow that complaint,” Lyons said.
Completing that process is how change takes place, the sheriff adds.
“Our voices are a whole lot stronger when we are together as one –when we’re following the process.”
Categories: Polk County