Sheriff Vernon Chinn prepares to retire after 16 years on the job in Pratt County.
The best sheriff staff in Kansas. That's the way Pratt County Sheriff Vernon Chinn describes his officers as he prepares to retire after 16 years on the job.
"I'm gonna miss this with a passion," Chinn said.
Chinn said he can't possibly thank the public enough for the opportunity to serve them and for their support and trust over the years.
To incoming sheriff Jimmy White he offered this advice, "Never lose sight of how you got here. You earned the public trust to step into the highest law enforcement position in the county. Never lose that trust."
His staff has been so good only one time in his career has he had a legitimate complaint about an officer and that officer didn't work for him long.
Training is crucial in law enforcement and his officers have ongoing training to help keep them safe.
One of the first lessons he learned was when dealing with people, their opinion of law enforcement should be better when the contact is over than when it began.
"Leave a good impression no matter what their impression was. That really sunk in for me," Chinn said.
Sometimes that's hard because he deals with people that didn't have the same upbringing he did.
One other piece of advice he got early in his law enforcement career was 'when you walk out the door to go to work make sure you come home to the same family.' Law enforcement requires a huge time commitment and taking care of family is important. Twice in his service, he had to say no to his wife at Thanksgiving. Chinn said he could not have had a more supportive wife.
Chinn said he has had more fun than is legal because of the people he met, good or bad, during his years on the force. It was the best part of his job, that and the people that worked for him. He will miss working with and helping people.
"That's what makes this job worthwhile, getting to know people," Chinn said.
The Greensburg tornado in 2007 was the biggest challenge of his life outside of Vietnam. He was appointed director of all law enforcement operations and got to work with some of the finest officers in the state including Wichita Police Sgt. Joe Dessenberger, who brought his command staff and KHP Capt. Dave Ploutz and other officers. They were critical because local law enforcement had no facilities, no vehicles and no homes. The Red Cross with Executive Director Donna Meyer-Pfeiffer, KBI Special Agent Bruce Mellor and numerous other law enforcement helped Chinn realize everything will be OK. Several of these same people helped with the 2002 tornado that hit Pratt County and again in 2008.
This was one of the most rewarding experiences of his life because officers got to do what they signed on to do, assisting and helping people that couldn't help themselves.
One of the more positive things to come out of Greensburg was Pratt County got a mobile command unit. At the time there was none in the entire state. The county has also acquired an armored vehicle to respond in crisis situations. Both vehicles have been used in other counties.
One of the hardest things to do for any law enforcement officer is death notices. Knowing that he will tell families something they will never get over has been the hardest part of his job.
Chinn remembers his first one, a 16-year-old girl, who had crashed into a tree at Pratt County Veterans Memorial Lake.
The hardest accident for Chinn was five members of a family from Liberal were killed during bad icing conditions when their vehicle hit a semi west of Pratt in a passing lane.
Sadly, everyone of the accidents he worked was preventable. When an officer does a death notice, that is not the end of the connection with the family. It effects the office long after death.
Suicides are harder to work than accidents. With an accident, the family can understand the wreck but it's hard for them to accept that their family member took their own life, Chinn said.
Sheriff duties are always ongoing. Theres not time when an officer can go home and say 'I've done my job' because there always more to do.
Communication is the most valuable tool for law enforcement and Chinn said he and his officers always have time to talk. It has helped defuse many situations over the years.
Not everything is serious in the department. Officers do play pranks on one another. They also get in to humorous situations. One deputy was trying to get some cattle off a highway and he didn't read one animals body language. The animal got him down and was pushing him around. He later told Chinn that he would have shot the animal but he couldn't get his gun out of the holster.
Another time he warned his chief that an animal was going to run him down and it did, sending the chief screaming down the road. Chinn credits part of his ability to deal with people to his time on the ranch. Dealing with livestock taught him patience and how to quick decisions.
Chinn has worked a couple of very bad deer accidents including one at five mile bridge east of Pratt when the deer came through the vehicle, killed the driver and ended up wedged in the back of the SUV.
Chinn grew up on South Hamilton in Pratt. He attended Central Grade School, Liberty Middle School and Pratt High School. He joined the army right out of high school and served in Viet Nam on the Demilitarized Zone. He used to watch the North Vietnamese raise their flag every morning across the three mile zone. He served one year over 1969-1970 there in field artillery and is a combat veteran reaching the rank of Private First Class.
He wanted to get his military life out of the way before he started a family because he didn't want to leave a young widow behind. He said he wanted to go to Viet Nam because he believed in the cause.
"I thought I could make a difference," Chinn said.
Chinn has been married 45 years to Betty and they have three children: Crystal Clark (Mitch), Michael (Tara) and Cheri Haskett (Jason). Their grand children are Brendan, Mackenzie, Dylan, Kale, Ty, Dalton, Ethan, Avery, Emmerson and Kennadie.
"They (family) are the most important people in my life," Chinn said.
He came home from the war and started working on the Richard Robins Ranch near Belvidere in Kiowa County. From 1972 to 1984 the family also managed ranches in Colorado and Nebraska. Then the family came back to Pratt County and did custom cattle care, bought and sold horses, sold equipment and ran some of their own cattle.
He met Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper Johnny Bertram and got interested in law enforcement. He also got to know Trooper Jack Veverka, KHP Sgt. John Borst and then joined the sheriff reserve under sheriff Ray McGuire. Sheriff Scott Jackman hired him as a full time deputy in 1993. He ran against Jackman (something he regretted) unsuccessfully in 1996 but McGuire ran also and was elected. McGuire retired in 2000 and Chinn ran for sheriff and has retained the position since then.