When St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar addressed the Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Beach July 21, his remarks were preceded by an introduction that highlighted Shoar’s 12 years as sheriff, four years as St. Augustine’s chief of police, 24 years in the National Guard and 35 years in law enforcement.
But when it came to explaining how he got into law enforcement to begin with, Shoar sheepishly acknowledged it was all about the heat.
“I had just moved to St. Augustine and was working construction,” Shoar told Rotarians. “Here I was, this Irish Catholic Yankee boy up on the roof in 100-degree heat when suddenly this police car rolls by with the windows up. I said, ‘That dude’s got air conditioning!’
“So while my motives became more noble later on,” he quipped, “originally I just wanted air conditioning!”
Shoar turned serious, however, when he addressed a different kind of heat now facing law enforcement in the wake of a string of police officer shootings across the nation. With some Black Lives Matter protesters publicly calling for police officers to be murdered, Shoar said it’s a situation he didn’t expect to see during his career.
“If you told me 10 years ago what (the climate toward law enforcement) would be today, I’d have said, ‘You’re crazy, it will never happen,’” Shoar said. “We’ve got stop the false narrative that has taken hold about police officers. The current dialogue is not healthy for our country.”
That narrative, he contended, began in earnest in Ferguson, Missouri following the shooting of Michael Brown. In the wake of Brown’s death, protests arose after some purported witnesses claimed that Brown said, “Hands up, don’t shoot!” before he was killed. An in-depth investigation later proved that story to be false; far from cooperating, Brown actually was attacking the police officer at the time he was shot. Yet the false story continued to be advanced by groups organizing protests around the country.
“People in leadership positions jumped to conclusions about what turned out to be a completely false narrative,” said Shoar, noting that the Brown case led to the founding of Black Lives Matter.
“All lives matter to us in law enforcement,” Shoar said. “We come to work every day with one goal in mind: to help people. And there is no profession in America today that holds itself accountable as much as law enforcement.
“I’ve had to fire officers,” he continued. “I’ve put officers in prison. I’ve suspended them – and we document every bit of it. We’ve got bad actors, no question. We deal with them.”
Shoar acknowledged that minorities have a valid point when they complain about being stopped repeatedly by law enforcement simply while driving to work or school. But because officers are so often called to high-crime neighborhoods, he said it’s understandable that in those areas, officers are more apt to expect situations to become violent. He also pointed to statistics that show young black males commit a disproportionately high share of all shootings, robberies and violent crimes.
“What we’ve got to do is figure out why that is occurring – why does this young generation have such hopelessness and despair that is causing this outrageous level of crime?” he said. “The problem is not the police – the police are just responding to the problem.”
Shoar said that parenting and a return to core spiritual principles are needed to address the problem.
“We need to return to Christ, our Judeo-Christian roots and embrace God,” he said. “The very nature of our culture and our civilization is on the line.”