Supreme Court decision puts Storey debate to rest
September 13, 2002
Incumbent Pat Whitten, whose lack of special training for peace officers has become an issue in Storey County’s hotly contested sheriff’s race, may have caught a timely break from a Nevada Supreme Court decision last week.
The court concluded Nevada law “automatically confers upon constables peace officer status by virtue of being elected, without any additional requirements or qualifications for fulfilling that duty.”
A constable has the powers of a sheriff, but limited to a township. Whitten applauded the decision, calling the debate over his training much ado about nothing.
“I’ve always been comfortable with my qualifications for holding this office,” he said. “(Peace Officer Standards Training) certification is a good thing to have, but I never promised to become certified and the demands of the job make it difficult to obtain while working.”
Whitten’s opponent, Tyler Clarke, believes the ruling applies primarily to elections — not the qualifications of holding the office. And he still believes a sheriff should be certified.
“I don’t have a problem with anyone running for this position as long as they agree to fulfill that requirement,” Clarke said. “For a sheriff to know what his troops are facing on the street, he needs an intimate knowledge of the job through certification, training and experience. If he drives up in a sheriff’s car, he could only make citizens’ arrest. He has no enforcement ability on the street.”
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Dick Clark, executive director of the Nevada Commission for POST certification, said most sheriffs in Nevada are certified, but his organization does not believe it should be a requirement.
“Sheriffs don’t have to be certified to run an agency,” he said. “But all people in Nevada need to be able to depend on a personal level of professional treatment. Peace officers, working without supervisory oversight, can suspend constitutional rights or take a life. We want those people to have a minimal level of expertise.”
Storey County resident Juanita Cox, who previously challenged Whitten on the issue, said the court decision changed her mind.
“I have no qualms about accepting the Supreme Court decision, but the law needed to be clarified,” she said. “I would prefer a sheriff who has gone through classes and understands more. They are more effective with this training, but if an elected official can be anyone we choose, great. I may be running for the office.”
The Supreme Court case was started in Clark County after 20-year-old Nicholas Hansen filed to run for constable in Henderson. Incumbent Constable Earl Mitchell challenged Hansen’s candidacy. Mitchell said a constable must be a peace officer and for that must be at least 21.
Hansen won’t be 21 until February, a month after he would take office, if he wins.
A Clark County District judge ordered his name to be taken off the ballot. Hansen took the case to the state Supreme Court and won.
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