It’s hard to believe, but next year at this time Bannock County will have a new sheriff.
After a law enforcement career spanning more than four decades, Sheriff Lorin Nielsen has decided not to run for re-election.
He’s quick to point out that his departure is not a retirement, though he’s old enough to do so.
Nielsen says he’s absolutely going to run for another local office and that’s good news.
East Idaho needs dedicated public servants like Nielsen who know how to treat people and can defuse conflicts rather than instigate and escalate them.
In a nation in which government has a knack for creating critics, Nielsen’s style during his more than 20 years as sheriff gave the people of Bannock County confidence that their top local cop carried out his duties with compassion and common sense rather than with anything resembling the negative stereotypes often associated with law enforcement.
Nielsen was able to remain sheriff for so many terms, often running unopposed, because he knows when to speak and when to listen and understands that oftentimes people who break the law are guilty of making bad decisions but aren’t necessarily bad people.
Nielsen will leave a legacy as sheriff in many ways but perhaps his push for government transparency, especially in law enforcement, will be the way he’s most remembered.
Everyone in the East Idaho media knows that Nielsen will never provide a “no comment” about a situation or incident regardless of the seriousness. He truly feels that if there’s a crime in Bannock County, the public has a right to know.
During the recent officer-involved shooting outside of Pocatello’s Sizzler restaurant, for example, Nielsen was informing the media about what happened less than an hour after officers shot the suspect. His comments went against the orders of federal authorities who didn’t want to release anything about what happened because the incident stemmed from a Drug Enforcement Administration narcotics bust.
Even when Nielsen accidentally shot himself in the hand with his pistol back in 2010, he issued a press release about the incident despite others in the local law enforcement community advising him to keep quiet about it.
He felt that telling the truth about the embarrassing incident was the right thing to do.
Among those of us in the local media, such honesty is not forgotten and it cemented Nielsen’s reputation as one of the good guys in government.
Other local leaders should follow his lead and realize that telling the truth during times of controversy will make them look much better in the end than trying to sweep such news under the rug and hope that no one finds out about it.
It’s no secret these days that American government at all levels is mistrusted by most Americans.
Nielsen’s time as sheriff certainly did not add to that problem, and if anything, his conduct in office — even when dealing with controversies surrounding the Bannock County Jail or officer-involved shootings — set him apart from what we all typically encounter in local government.
Nielsen’s one regret is that he’s leaving the Sheriff’s Office without resolving the problem of the massive overcrowding at the Bannock County Jail.
Nielsen and other local leaders have on multiple occasions tried to convince county voters to support a multi-million-dollar upgrade of the facility but the super majority of support needed at the polls was never achieved.
He said one of his goals in pursuing a new local office will be to make the jail expansion happen.
There are plenty of reasons, not the least of which is maintaining public safety, that we need a bigger jail and we hope the expansion becomes a reality as well as part of Nielsen’s legacy.
At the press conference where Nielsen announced his plans to not seek re-election he also offered up an endorsement for the individual he hopes will succeed him.
Not much is known about Sheriff’s Office Lt. Tony Manu but getting the nod from the well-respected Nielsen might be all he needs to become Bannock County’s next sheriff.
Nielsen will leave office in January 2021 as the longest serving sheriff currently active in the state and the longest serving in Bannock County’s history.
Our sadness that he’s leaving is heavily tempered by the fact he says he’s going to run for another office and soon.
His next press conference will likely be to announce that next move.
We can’t wait to hear what Nielsen has planned because our government definitely needs leaders who walk the walk as well as talk the talk.