Brian Hieatt

2021 Sheriffs Fellow

What is your current position? 

Sheriff of Tazewell County.

What inspired you to choose this career path?

I wanted a career in which I would be out doing something different and exciting every day, not just a regular behind-a-desk type of job (which is odd since now I have to spend a lot of time behind a desk).

How did you hear about the Claremont Institute?

Through members of the Virginia Sheriff’s Association.

What is your fondest memory of the Claremont Institute?

To be in a setting in which you can speak to sheriffs from different parts of our nation and be able to talk with them about the differences between my area and theirs and the problems they face compared to the problems in my area. I was also able to pick up new ideas from those fellow sheriffs to bring back to my county.

You were a member of the inaugural year of the Claremont Institute Sheriffs’ Fellowship. What do you think will make this fellowship unique and relevant in the years to come?

I had never attended any type of class before that focused on our country and the history of our government, including leading up to the formation of elected Sheriffs.   

Who would the individual be and what timeless issues would you discuss, if you could have a sit-down conversation with a historic figure from Virginia’s founding?

I would sit down with James Madison, Father of the Constitution and fourth president of the United States, and I would ask him what his thoughts were, and exactly what he and other framers wanted to convey, when they were drafting the U.S. Constitution.

What would the artifact be, if you could hold one piece of history from the early founding of our country and why?

The original Flag of the United States. Just to be able to hold it and think about what men and women have sacrificed for it.

What qualities do you believe are necessary for effective leadership?

People always answer this type of questions with ‘“being a good communicator” or ‘“being able to lead by example’,” and those are good and needed qualities, but in running a public office it is also just as important in today’s times,– and to the citizens you serve,– to be a leader that instills integrity, honesty, and transparency in one’s employees and then demonstrates those qualities oneself. 

What do you believe is the greatest challenge currently facing the United States? 

From the perspective of over 30 years a police officer, I have seen more challenges facing law enforcement in the United States than ever before. We are facing movements across our nation to take away punishments and any disciplinary actions from people committing crimes. The focus has moved far away from caring about the victims of crime and caring more about those that have victimized citizens. Our focus needs to be on our innocent victims who have to live in fear because of the crimes that have been committed against them, especially when they see the person who victimized them being released early or receiving no punishment at all.

What do you believe has led to our established culture redefining itself in the 21st Century?

Social Media and the advancement of technology has drastically redefined our culture. Our world today spins on the axis of Facebook, Twitter, Tik Tok, and many more. Looking at it from a law enforcement perspective there has been a lot of good as well as bad to come from our new world of social media. We can alert and warn a whole community at once to potential dangers, crimes, and more, but at the same time it has opened the door to more crime. Scammers can hide behind keyboards while child predators have found a new highway to travel, and thanks to social media a bully no longer has to go to a schoolyard to torment someone.

What book, speech, or movie has left a lasting impression with you and why?

Ronald Reagan’s speech on faith, specifically his quote “I have the firmest possible belief in God. I believe as Lincoln once said: I would be the most stupid man in the world if I thought I could confront the duties of office I hold, if I could not turn to Someone who is stronger and greater than me, and I do resort to prayer.”  

Do you have a favorite quote?  Why does it resonate with you?

Ronald Reagan:, “If we ever forget that we are One Nation Under God, then we will be a nation gone under.” This resonates with me because of my strong faith and belief in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  

What is the most distinctive attribute/character of the people in Virginia’s Tazewell County you genuinely admire?

I admire our Tazewell County — never say die, never give up, attitude. We are a people of hard working, coal-mining, mountain-living, Appalachians.

What do you believe are the top three law enforcement issues currently facing America?

One main issue is the challenge of walking the line between fighting crime, (enforcing laws, catching the criminals, keeping the public safe), and at the same time not doing something the public thinks is too overbearing or intrusive. People are upset if you don’t stop crime but at the same time laws are being sought to prevent officers from making traffic stops, conducting searches, or executing warrants on criminals. We cannot fight crime and stay away from criminals at the same time.

The next issue I see across departments everywhere is trying to hire and maintain good officers. The extensive training and many other responsibilities officers have does not correspond to the wages available in departments across our nation. Often the career of law enforcement has become so scrutinized and controversial good officers would rather leave for other fields of work. The pool of applicants gets smaller each year.

The final major issue I see is the need for better communication and relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve. All of us need to work harder in building the public’s trust, which would help with the first two issues. The stronger the relationship and trust you have, then the more understanding the public may be when a department makes mistakes. 

What do you believe can be done to prioritize hardening soft targets in today’s volatile environment, i.e., schools? 

I have always felt that having School Resource Officers in our schools is the best deterrent we can have to protect our students and staff. It is important for people to know that there is an armed officer in the building protecting everyone, and although it may not be a popular idea, I believe having certain trained staff members armed and ready to defend a school would add another layer of protection. The same goes for our houses of worship. We have conducted multiple classes and meetings in churches and encouraged them to have a plan of action and to have trained church members armed and ready to protect their church when an emergency happens. Officers cannot be everywhere at once, and there will always be a time between when an emergency happens and when law enforcement arrives. What other people are ready and prepared to do makes all the difference. I have a weapon with me in the church I attend, and my pastor knows I am prepared if something happens.

At the end of a stressful day what brings you peace of mind?

Any job can be stressful and the position of sheriff is definitely one that is. My peace of mind is knowing that I have worked hard and continually make sure my office is doing the very best for our citizens. I can rest knowing that if I left today, I have put in place programs and advancements that were not here before and that they will continue after I’m gone.

If you could communicate one thing to politicians and Americans alike about the importance of policing, what would it be? 

I feel very blessed that in my part of Virginia and in my community, we have the support of our citizens and our elected officials. However, people and politicians need to think about what our communities would be like if we did not have any law enforcement. What kind of world would we be living in if there were no one to track down and arrest the person that just kidnapped or raped a child? How would we have to live if there were no one to help the elderly grandmother down the street who is calling for help because someone is breaking into her house, or no one to stop the drunk driver from colliding into a car and killing an entire family? No profession has reached the level of being perfect in every way (teachers, doctors, social workers). Law enforcement is no different –- it may not be perfect, but it is important we have it, and the officers who go out every day working in their community need as much support as possible to protect their citizens.