Interview – Al McNeil, Candidate Lyon County Sheriff
LYON COUNTY SHERIFF – AL MCNEIL
These interviews are being posted on NewsDesk by Nancy Dallas (www.ndbynd.com) . Reposting of any interview by interested parties must include the disclaimer the interview was originally posted in this publication. Questions or comments may be directed to Nancy Dallas at email@example.com or 775-847-0129.
There are four candidates in this Primary race. The two candidates receiving the most votes will face off in the General Election. The interviews are being published in alphabetical order. Gregory Kantz, Al McNeil and Albert Torres responded. Steve Adams did not respond.
1. Give a brief summation of your professional and political background.
I was born and raised into a blue-collared, hardworking family that taught me the values of hard work, fairness, and integrity. Those values continue to govern my life today; when I give you my hand and make a promise, I keep it.
At the age of 17 and after graduating high school, I enlisted in the United States Marine Corp, and I continued to serve my country for the next 21 years until my retirement in 2002. It was here that I learned the ability to develop and hone the skills of servant leadership, which is a people-oriented leadership style. These skills were garnished through the mentorship of many great leaders who went before me.
I can say with complete certainty that my service overseas is what really shaped my outlook on life. Consider that the 21 years I served in the Marines, almost 12 years of it was spent deployed. I once counted the number of countries I have been too, and it exceeded 40 countries. I have seen starvation and hunger, disease, hopelessness, fear and death.
However, it was my assignments as the operations chief with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, Special Operations Capable (M.E.U., S.O.C) in 2000 and ultimately as the operations chief for the Marine Corp Mountain Warfare Training Center, Bridgeport California prior to and after the 9/11 terrorists attacks that gave me the majority of the necessary technical and operational skills to manage and lead the Sheriff’s Office well into the 21st century. It is in these positions that I gained the knowledge, skills, and abilities in planning development and operational execution for mission success at a national level for international events, which included partnership for peace programs with host nations, humanitarian aid, and other nation building programs through authorized by the U.S. State Department.
Upon my retirement from the Marines, the question then became, what career path would I choose, and it only seemed a logical fit to become a police officer. Their values aligned with mine, “To protect and serve.” I also wanted to work and live in Lyon County, and even turned down a job offer from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. Fortunately, former Sheriff Sid Smith offered me an opportunity and position to serve, and I’ve never looked back.
In 2002, I began my law enforcement career with the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office. This is where I began a transition from a military life into a civilian. It was while working in the jail for the next two years that I began learning about many of the issues facing people being committed to jails and prisons.
In 2005, I transferred to a patrol deputy position and was assigned to the Mason and Smith Valley patrol areas for the next six years. During this time, I served in almost every capacity available to me, which included S.W.A.T. team member, gang unit, sex offender task force, Street Enforcement Team, and Field Training Officer. Also during this time period, I was awarded the agency’s deputy of the year in 2009, and received several accolades for my performance of duty.
From 2011 until 2013, I then served as a detective with the Sheriff’s Office, where I worked many major criminal investigation cases. In April 2013, I was reassigned back to the Mason and Smith Valley patrol areas, where I continue to serve today.
However, I also continued with my educational studies, which were not available to me during my heavy deployment schedules in the Marine Corp. In 2012, I completed the requirements for a Bachelor of Science degree in Religion (Christian theology), and further completed the requirements for a dual Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice Business Administration. I was awarded both degrees in 2013 from Liberty University.
Finally, in answering the question to the fullest, I have never previously sought any political office, and therefore have no political experience. However, it is my life experiences which will enable me to be a problem-solver and solution-oriented leader who will make a difference in the improvement of the delivery of services in order to improve our quality of life throughout Lyon County.
2. Why are you running for this position?
During the past few years while working and living in Lyon County, I have seen its growth and it culture begin to change from a rural setting to one with urban dynamics. Because of this, our citizens have been having a difficult time addressing our desire for community, which is a feeling of belonging, the sense that others care to what is happening, and that we can depend on the people around. Conversely, what we are seeing with this urbanization is the increased social problems, such as higher rates of burglaries, robberies, suicides, alcoholism, drug addictions, and rapes.
Unfortunately, our law enforcement has not been growing to meet the changing dynamics of the county’s social problems. In fact, I would make the argument that it has reversed policy on several critical areas from the previous administration and that the previous administration was on the right track to grow with the county. Furthermore, it is because of these same failed policies that have facilitated the 39% crime rate increase.
I firmly believe that law enforcement is the first responder towards providing positive interaction with all of Lyon County’s citizens. It is through this type of approach that we can be proactive in promoting the sense of community desires. In order to achieve this desired end state, it will take a transformational leader to make the necessary law enforcement operational changes, and have the vision, drive, and desire in making Lyon County the safest and most desirable places in America to live, raise a family, and retire.
It is because of this critical need to transform the Sheriff’s Office to improve efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity in order to promote improved delivery of services that I realized based on my knowledge, skills, and ability that I am that transformational leader, who will get the job done right.
3. What makes you more qualified to serve in this position than your opponents?
Generally speaking, leadership can be summed up as an art form, it is the ability to influence, motivate and enable others to contribute toward the effectiveness and success of their organization. I am no doubt displaying my prejudice when I offer the observation that people with military training are given the tools and taught the necessary skills to become effective leaders. Military service is the definitive prep school where many of our nation’s young men and women garner the essential skills to lead people and become successful in life.
I believe that I am a product of my military service because that is where I learned to become an effective and efficient leader. Along with many of my fellow veterans, we were not taught these skills from a book in a classroom, but we learned them on the job, under adverse conditions, and under the mentorship of great leaders. I love the quote from the Bible Book of wisdom, Proverbs as it states, “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.”
During my military career, I had many great mentors who taught me the principles of servant leadership, which is a people-oriented leadership style. The lessons that I have learned separate me from many others in that I have acquired the crucial traits of being selfless, egalitarian, humble, nurturing, empathetic and ethical. I do not view leadership as a position of power, but rather I serve without drawing attention to myself, without evoking a superior status, without being judgmental about others, or being defensive of criticisms received. More importantly, I have learned to anchor my decisions and actions based on ethical principles and practices. I am bound to serve without being expected to be served.
Having said that, my leadership ability is first and foremost the governing factor that separates me from my opponents. What follows is my operational planning experience. As an operations chief for the Marine Corps, I had the opportunity to work with command staffs at the national level, working on international problems. The scope of that work is much greater than any issue that will be faced by any sheriff.
As citizens, we expect and demand that our governmental services be provided in a cost effective manner. We no longer are tolerating the excuses of asking for increased budgets without providing results. It is this operational command staff experience, which gives me the ability to identify shortfalls, and redirect assets in a problem solving solutions to improve our overall quality of life issues.
4. What do you expect to spend on this campaign? Do you intend to spend your own money? To what degree?
From interviews with previous Lyon County elected officials, I am being told that the cost to run an effective campaign will cost in the range of $30,000-$40,000. To that end, I am estimating to spend up to 25% of the total costs in my personal money.
What has truly amazed me is the cost to operate and finance a campaign, with printed materials such as business cards, fliers, political signs, mailers and fuel costs to attend the numerous functions to meet the citizens of Lyon County. Fortunately, I have found a qualified campaign manager who is greatly assisting in keeping costs lower than expected. Furthermore, with the grass roots movement we are experiencing throughout Lyon County, the total overall cost should be greatly reduced from the initial projections.
5. What are the three to four most challenging issues facing the Lyon County Sheriff’s Department?
There is a question that used to be discussed relatively openly in our communities and it seems to have been swept under the carpet politically. Let me ask that question of you all today…… “Do you feel safe in your neighborhood, in your own home and while traveling about your community?” This is a pertinent and powerful question that begs urgent and honest discussion. We can no longer afford to sit back and accept the political rhetoric that says we should have no concerns over our safety. We can no longer afford to ignore and avoid the real threats to our quality of life. Witness if you will, just a sampling of threats right here in Lyon County…..from the four homicides in Fernley last year, to the recent numerous tire slashing in in Dayton and even to the seizure of 1 ½ pounds of methamphetamines in Yerington earlier last year, the residents of Lyon County are facing some real issues involving the suppression of criminal activity I am certain that it’s time some credible answers were forthcoming.
Unlike many past candidates, I have been listening to you as I have been visiting neighborhoods, churches, senior centers and community meetings. My intention and plan as I run for Lyon County Sheriff is to reactively restore the voice of Lyon county citizens so that I have ammunition to make and implement the necessary changes that will make law enforcement really work for you.
Therefore, the most challenging issue for the Sheriff’s Office is to change its own culture. Coupled with that comes resistance to operational changes from within its own workforce. Unfortunately, many of its employees have developed an entitlement mentality, which has driven a wedge between the citizens to whom they serve and the organization itself. Many trusted advisors say the culture can’t be changed, but I believe it can be with a positive transformational leadership approach. We must become better stewards of tax payer dollars. Our citizens and county deserves better.
Coupled with this is the citizen’s mistrust and fear of its law enforcement. Although it is not completely widespread throughout the county, there is enough voices being raised that the Sheriff’s Office must address the issue. It must implement strategies in improving trust through real transparency and honest communications.
The third major area facing the Sheriff’s Office is its limited fiscal resources. For far too long, the current administration is requiring its workforce to provide greater services without adopting innovative ideas to reduce costs and speed up the process. Unfortunately, this approach leads to dissatisfied citizens who are receiving poor services and frustrated employees who are over worked. This type of governmental bureaucracy must cease. Only through real innovation can we maximize tax payer dollars
As we enter into this election cycle, I want to encourage you to begin to think about the status quo, and begin to give me some input as to new directions and vistas for our county, pointedly and especially as it relates to law enforcement. I am convinced that we can no longer sit quietly on the side line and drink the “Kool-Aid”. We must become proactive and begin to take action.
6. It is not arguable the Lyon County Sheriff’s Department needs additional staffing. Where is the greatest need for staffing increases and how would you intend to utilize new personnel?
The crime rate increase of 39% is the greatest threat to our quality of life and degrades the county’s ability to promote economic development, to promote job creation and to reduce our high unemployment rate.
Nonetheless, crime levels and trends have become the benchmark for police staffing. There is a common belief that the more there is crime, the more police officers are needed to be hired to combat this crime. On face value this approach seems appropriate, but in actuality it is an inefficient approach to staffing. If you will follow this reasoned approach. When police are ineffective at combating crime, it calls for adding more police. When police are effective at combating crime, fewer officers are needed. Therefore, using this model essentially provides incentives for poor performance and disincentives for good performance.
Additionally, crime rates are influenced by many other factors than just the response by police. This is the area that we must look at to determine where staffing is needed. The majority of Lyon County’s crimes are directly related to illegal narcotics, specifically methamphetamines. These crimes include larceny and burglary type crimes to provide cash for the purchase of meth, violent crimes between rivals, and gang related crimes in the control of distribution networks within Lyon County.
Unfortunately, uniformed patrol deputies in marked vehicles are not equipped to deal with the suppression of these types of crimes. It is through an Intelligence Led Policing (ILP) model that focuses on task force organization, provides asset management, and enables mobile allocation and response by placing the right numbers of deputies, at the right time, and in the right location. The Carson City Sheriff’s Office is currently utilizing an ILP model variation, which I believe is responsible for their crime rate reduction of 11% during the same reporting period. ILP is the future law enforcement model that must be adopted by the Sheriff’s Office, which will take us out of the 1920s model we are currently in. This is where I will place staffing increases through fiscal dollar reallocations.
7. Can staffing increases be made within the current Sheriff’s budget? Explain.
Absolutely, staffing increases can be made within the current budget. As with all governmental budgets, including the Sheriff’s Office, there is a lot of mismanaged dollars.
One of the first priorities as your elected Sheriff will be a budget line by line review, using proven accounting and budgetary principles and practices. The bottom line is this. If it is not in the best tax payer interests, we will not purchase it, or maintain it. Furthermore, there will not be any Sacred Cow that can’t be touched. Everything will be open for discussion, review, and either rejection or approval. By using this type of approach, I believe we can find significant savings that could be used to fund staffing increases.
Furthermore, I have every intention on eliminating the Undersheriff position. The savings with this position can place two more deputy “boots on the ground.” The current administration relies on a very centralized command and control philosophy, which is extremely expensive and cost prohibitive. Conversely, I will decentralized command and control, which is what I experience in the Marines almost 22 years ago. Decentralizing was one of the best tactical decisions made by the Marine Corp, and I firmly believe that its concepts are very applicable to the Sheriff’s Office.
Through decentralization, we will improve efficiency, timeliness, and increase our operation tempo at a reduced cost to the tax payer. Additionally, it is the operational tempo increase at the deputy level that will keep the criminal off balance, frustrated, and afraid to commit crime in fear of being caught. There are some naysayers who argue that the Sheriff’s Office must have a second in command. However, the simple fix is to designate a senior command staff position as second in priority when the Sheriff is unavailable. Finally, it must be noted, that the Board of County Commissioners appoints a replacement sheriff if required, not the agency. And if the vacancy requires more than two years, then it is up to you, the voters by a special election to elect a replacement sheriff, not the agency.
8. The Lyon County crime rate has increased considerably. What strategies will you develop to lower the overall county crime rate?
Approximately two years ago, I completed an analysis of Sheriff’s Office operations, and created an operational plan using the Marine Corps planning process model. In simplistic terms, there are three steps in the reorganization to lower the overall crime rate: reorganize patrol, recruitment and training of a total reserve component, and creation of ILP.
There is little doubt that if we can remove many of the self-imposed bureaucratic practices upon patrol deputies, their work load can be reduced. We must clarify and define their roles and functions as emergency first responders in the preservation of life and the protection of protect. Coupled with this must be a workload assessment, which will facilitate staffing and shifting assignments throughout the county. No longer will we work when we want to work, but rather, we will work when the heavy workloads are, regardless of the day of the week, or time. This will include command staff.
Another important transition for patrol deputies will be the push for greater interaction with all citizens throughout the county. The planning process identified that our critical vulnerability was our citizens. It should be noted that critical vulnerability is that which is most important to us in order to achieve the desired end state. Relationship building and partnering with our citizens provides additional “eyes and ears” to help us suppress criminal activity, and restores trust between us. Conversely, the criminal wants the citizens afraid, and thus they can continue with their illegal activities. As the old adage says, “Win the hearts and minds of the people.”
Along with patrol reorganization, the recruitment, training, and retention of a total reserve component is critical to the overall success of the Sheriff’s Office. The difference between what we can afford and what we need is made up of reserves, which includes every position within the agency. The current administration believes only in sworn deputy reserves, and although they are important, there is really more to the success of the program. Reserves should include dispatchers, clerical and administrative support staff, prisoner transports, and inmate work crew supervision, along with the sworn deputy reserves.
My three years spent assigned to a Marine reserve unit really enables me to understand and implement a program designed to improve the delivery of services. Furthermore, another old adage says, “engage the reserves and mobilize a community.” Reserves are our additional “eyes and ears” and provide additional conductivity to the community.
Finally, the creation of an ILP program, which is the heart and soul to reduce the crime rate, and will focus on drug dealers, gang members, and violent criminals within Lyon County. This is where my experiences in combating narcotics trafficking in Northern Thailand and narcoterrorism in Peru, intelligence collection assignments in Honduras, and task force organization planning in the special operations community as an operator and later as a planner. Because of my knowledge, skills, and abilities in these areas, I will be able to give the vision and guidance to the overall success. They will go where they are needed, giving no rest to their focus of main effort: drug dealers, gang members, and violent criminals. This approach will cause fear in the rest of the lesser criminals, who will cease their criminal activities because of the risk of being caught.
9. How would you intend to create an atmosphere of public trust and confidence between the citizens and Lyon County law enforcement?
Please see my answers to questions #5 and #8 above.
10. With the reality of dealing with gangs and narcotic related type crimes becoming increasingly challenging and threatening to our quality of life, how do you propose to deal with these issues the next 4 years?
Please see my answers to questions #5, #6, #7, and #8 above.
11. In your opinion, what is the public image of the Sheriff’s Department in the eyes of Lyon County residents?
The image is extremely diverse and regionalized. There are those citizens who praise the agency and what it does; however, I am listening to educators, veterans, church going Christians, and senior citizens who are dissatisfied with our attitudes and demeanor, calling us “thugs” who don’t care. Although it would be expected to receive comments like that from people who interact with law enforcement on a regular basis because of their criminal actions, we should not be receiving those types of comments from honest, law abiding citizens.
The real question is why I am hearing these comments and not the current administration. I believe it is because I can break through the barrier of mistrust, where they begin to open up about their frustrations, and talk about their negative interactions with a single law enforcement encounter. Most of their frustrations and negative comments comes from a culture conflict that is held by many deputies. This is why leadership must redefine roles, duties, and responsibilities for our patrol deputies, in order to improve our image throughout the county.
12. Do you believe there is need for costly improvements/changes made in regards to the operation of the new jail facility? Explain.
The decision to build the new jail facility in its current location was a poorly thought out decision. One major downfall was that it failed to improve future county services at reduced costs. Furthermore, the internal designs and plans were bullied through the planning process by individuals who had very little knowledge in jail operations and planning, and against the advice of field experts. The end result is we, the county, have a jail that is not meeting our needs for the future. Furthermore, it has increased our overall operational costs.
Sadly, we are stuck with this facility for the next 30 plus years. As the old adage goes, we must “make lemonade out of lemons.” The Sheriff’s Office must develop strategies to maximize the efficiency of the jail. This will include reviews of how and when we make arrests, such as minor misdemeanor offenses. Many agencies no longer make these types of arrest because of operational costs associated with transportation, lost work force labor hours, and booking expenses. It is easier to give them a court date and allow them to resolve the issue with the courts instead of upending their lives.
Another area we will look into is a holding and transfer type system of arrestees, centrally located in the county. This type of system will reduce drive time by at least one hour per arrest. Furthermore, with a slight delay, many arrestees could post bail and not have to even enter the jail system in Yerington. The savings from this type of system could be significant from reduced labor hour costs, related vehicle maintenance costs, and fuel costs.
13. It has been an ongoing debate as to whether deputies should be allowed to take department vehicles home or not. What is your position on this issue?
As I previously stated, there is no Sacred Cow within the agency. Every expenditure must be evaluated and weighed against the interest of the tax payers and the safety of the deputy. The rationale for take home cars is that those individuals are subject to immediate call out as emergency first responders, in order to back up a nearby deputy who may be placed in a life threatening or dangerous scenario without adequate protection. This rationale is acceptable, but I believe there are instances where it has gone too far, which has now become a benefit package for certain individuals within the agency.
As your elected Sheriff, I will cease the use of take home car policy for administration personnel, such as command staff, including the Sheriff. They do not meet the criteria for the argument stated above. The policy for supervisors, special assignments, and patrol deputies will reviewed. This review will include history use, total cost by assignment, scene response times, and exploring other available options to promote officer safety at reduced costs. After this review, we may find that the policy stands, that the policy will stand in certain geographical areas in the county, or doesn’t meet criteria at all.
I know that many deputies will not like the fact that I will review this policy; however, we must always remember one important fact. The Sheriff’s Office does not have an endless supply of tax payer dollars. We must become sound fiscal managers of those dollars in all operational aspects. That is what I believe you, the tax paying citizen, demands of me as your elected Sheriff.
14. What efforts, if any, would you take to make the Sheriff’s Department a presence within our public schools?
I believe that a law enforcement presence in public schools is extremely critical in preventing and deterring criminal acts and criminal behavior. Furthermore, this presence builds a long lasting, and trusting relationship between these children and law enforcement officers through positive interaction. The challenge has always been funding for these types of positions.
As your Sheriff, I will work with the school district superintendent in finding solutions for funding. This could include cost sharing by both parties, or seeking grant funding or other long term financial resources. We must find solutions because the current approach is to just pull out the officer presence, and place them back into a marked vehicle under a 1920s policing model. Again, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
15. If there is an issue of concern to you that has not been addressed in your responses above, here is your chance to elaborate.
Under Nevada Revised Statutes, N.R.S. 211.110, it directs the governing body “to utilize the labor of the prisoners committed to any jails within any county.” The question that we should be asking is when was the last time anyone in this county has seen an inmate work crew? During the past several years, Lyon County has had to reduce its labor force due to budgetary cuts. Furthermore, it built a new jail on the premise of overcrowding.
Therefore, we have a lot of county work that needs to be done with a lot of individuals sitting inside the new jail. Common sense and state law says to use them. They should be pulling weeds and maintaining our cemeteries, sweeping and cleaning county right of way areas in our neighborhoods, picking up trash along our highways, and working as laborers for our local non-profit organizations, such as senior centers, food bank distribution points, and thrift stores.
Inmate work crews are important for so many reasons. It reminds individuals who are considering criminal activities that there are consequences for actions, especially a parent driving by a work crew and reinforcing the concept with their children in the car. Additionally, the inmates like the work because it helps pass the time, and gives them some self-worth back, especially in programs where they are really helping someone out.
Although we had an effective and efficient work program established under former Sheriff Sid Smith, the program in non-existent under the current administration. As your next elected Sheriff, I will bring back inmate work crews. They make sense and serve the best interests of the county.