In the best of times, managing a jail is a thankless job. In the midst of a pandemic that makes close-quarters contact a public health liability, management is more than housing offenders.
Marian Brown’s leadership during the COVID-19 crisis is one reason the Democratic incumbent gets our nod over Republican challenger Chad Prda. The other is that she continues to demonstrate the instincts, leadership and experience to run the jail efficiently and in compliance with state and federal rules, something that hasn’t always been a certainty under previous sheriffs. She also was chief deputy overseeing criminal investigations, warrants and traffic and had two decades of experience with the Duncanville Police Department when she was elected two years ago.
We think Brown, 55, rose to the moment during the pandemic when she pursued a policy to urge the early release of nonviolent inmates to thin out the jail population and slow the spread of the coronavirus in the jail. The process identified vulnerable inmates and gave those names to judges to determine whether they could be safely released on a lower bond.
Brown also suspended in-person visitation, issued gloves and masks to officers and staff in intake areas and areas of quarantine, and shifted intake procedures to reduce broad exposure to incoming inmates. Her effort was not flawless or complete but demonstrated practical, proactive leadership.
We also like that Brown is focused on law enforcement reforms, too, such as rebuilding trust between the community and law enforcement and backing efforts to help inmates avoid the jail revolving door. Aside from her actions during the pandemic, Brown, for example, asked law enforcement to ticket and release certain low-level, non-violent offenders or otherwise pursue charges without arresting and delivering people to jail pending trial.
Prda’s experience as a detective in the sheriff’s department gives him an understanding of the department from the perspective of the rank and file workers. Now a law enforcement consultant, Prda, 39, says he would improve department morale, reduce attrition and allow sheriff’s officers to conduct routine patrols in the city of Dallas. However, his proposals lack specifics and a clear pathway to accomplish the promises.
The next few years will yield daunting tests for law enforcement agencies as they balance accountability, public safety and overdue reforms. Brown possesses the measured judgment that comes with experience and the drive to effectively confront the challenges ahead.
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