Looking back on 37 years in law enforcement, Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney said he knew even as a child he would be involved with law enforcement. He just wasn’t sure which side it would be. Sometimes light hearted, most of the time very serious, and occasionally with a tear in his eye, Sheriff Mahoney shared about his law enforcement career with a Saturday morning men’s breakfast at Madison’s City Church, a career that included a visit with other sheriffs to the Oval Office to meet with President Trump last week.
Mahoney, who is a Democrat, said he was glad to have the opportunity to be among the members of the executive board of the National Sheriff’s Association who went to the White House on Tuesday, even though he has received some criticism for the visit. “It was an honor and a privilege and I do it representing you,” he said.
Mahoney said he has been to the White House before but on previous visits the sheriffs were on the receiving end of the advice. This president said he wanted to hear from the sheriffs. Mahoney said he agreed with president Trump on one thing. “We need to do something about our borders.” Mahoney said heroin is flooding the country and it comes from Mexico.
“It’s in Middle Schools, in law firms, in churches, in offices; it touches every one of us,” Mahoney said. Typically it starts with presecription pain killers for a legitimate medical condition and then turns to heroin when there’s an inability to get more pain killers.
But Mahoney didn’t stop there. He also told the president that many productive members of the community are immigrants and the country needs to find a way for them to become citizens.
Mahoney told his audience at the breakfast that law officers are desperate to find a way to stop the overwhelming epidemic of opiate abuse. In Dane County there are 12 to 15 overdoses reported every week, and there would be a lot more deaths if officers didn’t carry an antedote. “A little Narcan up the nose and they come right back to life,” he said. But not always, he said there were 106 overdose deaths in Dane County last year.
Mahoney also appealed to his listeners to support his jail renovation plan. He said 40 percent of jail inmates have chronic mental illness, yet there is no medical unit in the jail. That means the only recourse when inmates can’t be put with the general jail population is solitary confinement.
“We have an obligation to change,” he said. “We spend $1.7 billion on corrections in Wisconsin and we’re not addressing the reasons people are coming into the system. Making the change will not be cheap. We will have to do it at today’s price or tomorrow’s price. That price will not be the same.”
Mahoney invited his listeners to take a tour of the jail. “Until you see it, you cannot understand it,” he said, noting that there are also volunteer opportunities with a number of programs that help jail inmates.
First elected in 2006, Mahoney is the longest serving sheriff of the 52 sheriffs who have served Dane County. “Law enforcement and clergy are closely aligned,” he said. “You’ve been called to serve others,” adding later, “This job requires men and women of character and faith.”
He began his talk describing his early days in public service, volunteering as an EMT and a police dispatcher in his teens, and then being hired at the Cross Plains Police Department at age 19. Since he was under 21, he had to take his mother with him to buy his service revolver. “She bought it and let me borrow it to go to work,” he quipped.
He talked about his family, and the sacrifices they have to make for his law enforcement career, such as celebrating holidays and vacations at odd times because of his work schedule. And he told a story about a mystical experience that occurred just before the birth of his first son.
In those days before cell phones, emergency responders were contacted through pagers. The pager went off, displayed a number, and the responder called the number. In this case, Mahoney’s pager went off but there was no number. He checked with fellow officers; no one had paged him. He called home. His wife hadn’t paged him either. But she was pregnant, and not feeling well and she asked him to take her to the hospital.
Shortly thereafter their son was born, three and a half months early. None of the medical issues that they were warned about with the premature birth ever showed up. Their son is now 28 years old and has lived a healthy life.
“Medical doctors work wonders, but they don’t get credit for this,” Mahoney said. “This showed me how much God cares for me.”