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Ex-Cop Aids Idaho Talks With Kids

June 4, 2001

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SANDPOINT, Idaho (AP) _ Bonner County Sheriff Phil Jarvis remembers what a British colleague once told him in assessing U.S. law enforcement.

``He said, `You Americans try to do things too damn fast.′ And he was right,″ Jarvis said Sunday. ``One of the things you learn in a job like this is patience is probably the greatest quality you can develop.″

Jarvis’ patience, developed during more than three decades as a police officer in San Diego, Calif., helped him peacefully resolve a stalemate with six children, protected by a pack of feral dogs, in the northern Idaho backwoods.

On Thursday, 15-year-old Benjamin McGuckin gave up and was placed in custody of state child welfare workers. On Saturday, the remaining five McGuckin children, ages 8 to 16, agreed to leave their ramshackle home in the lakeside community of Garfield Bay.

The sheriff and former captain, coaxed back to police work 10 years after his retirement, is credited with setting the low-key, nonconfrontational tone that led to the McGuckin children being taken safely into protective custody, five days after their mother was arrested on a felony child neglect charge.

Jarvis, 64, and his wife, Patricia, moved to the Lake Pend Oreille area in 1993 to retire. But local law enforcement officers persuaded him to help bring a new level of professionalism to the sheriff’s office.

Jarvis, a Republican, ran for sheriff in 2000 and received 74 percent of the vote in a three-way race. He took office in January.

During the standoff with the McGuckin children, Jarvis cordoned off the dirt-road approaches to the house. He also tried to establish communications and enlisted the help of trained negotiators, but otherwise he waited patiently, refusing to force a resolution that could hurt the children or his deputies.

``As a SWAT commander in San Diego, I found out violence is the end result of moving too rapidly,″ he said.

Jarvis also had some experience dealing with the media while working as commander of San Diego’s homicide division.

During the past week, he briefed reporters on the sensational story of a recently deceased father, a jailed mother and six poverty-stricken children protected by a pack of 27 snarling mongrels. But he avoided pressure tactics from news agencies and scheduled briefings, saying he did not want to provide a forum for anti-government extremists that were inundating him with malicious e-mail.

``You cannot acquiesce to their artificial deadlines to the point where you allow their `News at 5′ to dictate your timeline and your tactics,″ he said.

The impasse at Garfield Bay ended peacefully on Saturday, unlike the bloody standoff at Ruby Ridge, some 40 miles away, where in 1992 a deputy federal marshall was killed along with the wife and teen-age son of white supremacist Randy Weaver.

Jarvis said he was proud of the performance of his 102 employees, including four detectives and fewer than two dozen patrol officers.

The employees were to be debriefed on Monday and the sheriff said the shortcomings in the department’s handling of the case would be identified and addressed. But on Sunday, he had more pressing business.

``I’m actually just trying to come down a little bit here and regain my sanity,″ he said, ``and mow my grass.″

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