Some Wood County sheriff's deputies are upset with their new boss' strict directive against smoking while in uniform - on the job or off. But it's a restriction they should learn to live with, literally.
New Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn, who took office Jan. 3, is right to raise the standard of personal behavior for his law enforcement officers because, as he puts it, "We're role models whether we like it or not."
Unhealthy habits like cigarette smoking and chewing tobacco should not be reinforced by uniformed officers in contact with the public. Children are especially impressionable. They are more likely to ignore anti-smoking messages when authority figures like sheriff's deputies are lighting up.
As Sheriff Wasylyshyn says, setting an example for young people comes with the territory for those in law enforcement. Besides, adds the new sheriff in town, there's the practical matter of the adverse effect on employees' health and depleting department strength with a correlated rise in sick days. No one, including disgruntled deputies, can dispute the well-documented physical harm regular tobacco use does to the body.
Therefore refraining from smoking or chewing tobacco while on the job or while wearing the uniform is not an unreasonable request made in the public interest and in the interest of ensuring adequately staffed law enforcement protection.
That didn't stop a deputy from filing a grievance to protest the sheriff's no-tobacco policy. She said it was "discriminatory against sheriff's office employees for being in uniform. Other departments within the county also have a standard of dress code [i.e. uniform] and are not restricted from smoking."
Several other deputies signed the grievance and a union representative with the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents them, concurred that the policy is too harsh and hopes to soften the sheriff's stand.
But backing down on a good idea - which, by the way, Sheriff Wasylyshyn notes is really just an expansion of an existing county ban against smoking in county-owned vehicles or buildings - would be a mistake. Deputies on duty or special assignments or wearing the uniform are in a position of influence that carries with it unique responsibility.
On the job or behind the badge they must honor it. Following a strict but sound policy on not smoking should be the least of their worries.