Floyd Bonner Jr.

Floyd Bonner Jr. is the Shelby County Sheriff.

Guest Column: Shelby County sheriff seeks safety, justice and equity for everyone

By Published: October 17, 2018 11:46 AM CT

As I begin my journey of service as Sheriff of Shelby County, I am humbled by the faith this community has placed in me.

My goal is to stand with those who seek safety, justice, and equity for everyone. The cornerstone of my administration is protecting our children and preparing them to be successful citizens.  

Our job is to learn how to do that effectively, using evidence-based best practices and training from experts.

In 2009, when I was chief of patrol, the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative (“JDAI”) challenged me to think differently about my role and I did. It simply made sense to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline when children were not committing serious/violent crimes.

It made sense to have our School Resource Officers serve as mentors while they were keeping the peace. It made sense to explore in-school alternatives so children won’t have Juvenile Court “records.”

Dr. Altha Stewart, the Director of the Center for Health in Justice-Involved Youth, taught me that it makes sense to recognize that our law enforcement and corrections deputies are interacting with children who have been traumatized in ways most of us cannot comprehend.

It makes sense to train all of our officers to recognize that trauma and effectively work with youth.

Now we issue citations instead of detaining them for minor offenses. We seek and receive national training on topics like adolescent development. The Department of Justice and JDAI have graciously provided important training and guidance to us and we will continue to ask for their help.

We are trying creative, interactive ways to work with youth in our schools and in our custody, rewarding good behavior and helping them see different ways to manager anger, fear or sadness.

The great news is that juvenile crime for non-violent offenses is down dramatically. The gut-wrenching bad news is that violent crime by youth is on the rise.

I am keenly aware that there are deep roots to the problems driving those numbers: extreme poverty, lack of education/skills/role models, unemployment/under employment, trauma, and lack of family stability. Our community is nationally ranked at the top in generosity. Yet, as Rev. Earle Fisher tells us, charity alone cannot save us. We must, instead, create a bedrock of financial equality in order to move forward.

I talk to and learn from our incarcerated youth. Their advice to us is to focus on the middle school children, keep them in school, don’t expel them to the streets, surround them with mentors/activities, show them a better way of life, and hold them accountable each and every day.

On Aug. 29, 2018, there were 59 youth in juvenile detention. On Sept. 13, the number was 48. Here is a sampling of the charges: 1st degree murder (3), attempted 1st degree murder (2), aggravated rape (1), aggravated assault (3), robbery with a weapon (9), and carjacking (7).

We review their status every day with court personnel to see if they are eligible for better/different placements.

It is very difficult to care for them in our outdated and inefficient building. Yes, they are accused of extremely violent crimes, but they are still developing adolescents. I will

never give up on helping them.

My most urgent priority is finding an appropriate place to house them securely while our county legislative body contemplates building a new facility. I do not want to have to send them away from their families while awaiting disposition of their cases simply because we have no safe and lawful place to keep them.

If the number of youth in our custody rises precipitously, as it has in past years, I could have the heartbreaking task of trying to find a place in another county to keep some of them.

My vision is to have the youth in our custody leave with the skills and confidence to have productive futures. To do that, we need classroom space for more teachers, tutors, therapists, and mentors to educate them as our State law requires. We need outdoor space for them to exercise and play on teams. We need a gym for cold or rainy days.

Make no mistake, these youth are traumatized and their medical and psychological needs are great. We need space for medical and mental health providers to work effectively. We do the best we can with talented and dedicated professionals and volunteers and our children are thriving on the positive attention. But we can do better. Much, much better.

I humbly seek your prayers and support so that together we can find the best way to do what is right for all of our children and our community.


Floyd Bonner Jr. Shelby County Sheriff Center for Health in Justice-Involved Youth

Comment On This Story

Email Editions

Sign up for our morning and evening editions, plus breaking news.