Friday, October 31, 2014

Sheriff candidates talk tactics

By DYLAN LYSEN, Herald Staff Writer | 7/28/2014

The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office has become a more friendly and cooperative group since Jeff Richards was appointed sheriff, Richards told The Herald. But Michael Reed, a former Wellsville police chief and county sheriff’s office detective, said the department needs to do be more friendly within the community.

“That’s one of the things I want to implement is to get the officers out of their cars, get them into the community, and get them talking to people,” Reed told The Herald.

The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office has become a more friendly and cooperative group since Jeff Richards was appointed sheriff, Richards told The Herald. But Michael Reed, a former Wellsville police chief and county sheriff’s office detective, said the department needs to do be more friendly within the community.

“That’s one of the things I want to implement is to get the officers out of their cars, get them into the community, and get them talking to people,” Reed told The Herald.

Richards and Reed spoke July 22 at a candidate forum organized by the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce, as well as with Herald editors, to discuss their campaigns. The Republican candidates face off in the Aug. 5 primary election. Both men have more than 20 years of law enforcement experience on their resumes.

While addressing the budget as one of Reed’s biggest concerns with the current sheriff’s administration, the challenger said he would like to increase patrols in rural parts of the county and get sheriff’s deputies more involved, he said.

“One of the ways to [cover the county’s crime] is to get the officers out of their patrol cars and get them involved in their communities,” Reed said. “I think that’s one of the big problems we have is City of Ottawa, which I realize is part of the county, is where all the excitement is at and that’s where all the officers want to gravitate to. But the main thing is that we need to cover the outlaying areas in the county.”

While Reed called for more deputies patrolling outside Ottawa’s city limits, Richards told the forum crowd he already has increased deputy coverage and restructured the patrol system to create more efficient coverage.

“We’ve increased our patrol in those [rural areas] through other ways,” Richards said.

Richards personally attends many meetings throughout the county, he said, including Franklin County Board of Commissioners meetings and city gatherings throughout the county. By visiting with residents at such meetings, Richards is able to see what’s happening in each community and show residents his office is responsive to their concerns.

“I attend city council meetings,” Richards said. “I can’t make all of them because there is one night in the month that we have four of them all going on at the same time and I can’t seem to make it to all four places at once. But I do send people out to those meetings so we can be there to let the cities know what we are doing and get feedback from them. We tried to be as responsive as we can be to the needs that the people bring to our attention.”

CRIME PREVENTION

While the sheriff’s main responsibility is fighting crime, both candidates stressed a plan to help educate the public and sway people away from criminal activity to help lower the crime rate.

During his tenure as sheriff, Richards said he has stressed the importance of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE, program and has expanded its presence in the county school districts. Richards was able take the program beyond Ottawa schools, he said.

“We’ve increased and stepped up our DARE program, which gets us out to every school districts in the county,” Richards said. “We had to get an approval through the school board to do that.”

Richards has repeatedly said the largest criminal activity in Franklin County is drugs. He told Herald editors that educating youths is the best option to tackling the issue.

“Our biggest problem is very simple: We have a drug problem in this county,” Richards said. “Drugs drive most of our violence and our property crimes in this county, and we know that.”

While Reed agreed the DARE program was an important step, his plan to lead youths away from criminal activity is to bring back school resource officers in each school district, he said. Adding the resource officers to schools would help with his initiative to get officers more involved in the community, he said.

If each school district had its own resource officer, students would understand the importance of law enforcement and would be more friendly to an adult figure generally disliked by the youth population, Reed, who has served as a resource officer and DARE officer in his career, said. The challenger did not address who would pay for reintroducing officers back into schools, nor what input local schools would have in the decision.

“I think if you get a good SRO in the school, it is invaluable to the department,” Reed told Herald editors. “The kids develop a rapport for [the officer] and respect for [the officer] and then they have a respect for law enforcement in general.”

Reed said education of the public and neighborhood watch programs that help report crimes and tips to the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office would help bring criminals into custody. He said he and another detective helped create the drug enforcement unit in Franklin County in 1988 and relied on the help of the neighborhood watch groups for its success.

“It needs to have the support of the people. To do that, we need to have strong Crime Stoppers and we need to have a strong neighborhood watch,” Reed said. “When we first started the unit, 90 percent of our arrests were made because of tips we received from the public. In order for a drug unit to be affective, they still need to receive tips from the public. To do that, we need people to be out and open to the public.”

BUDGET

The sheriff’s office is wasting money, Reed said.

“One of my main goals that I really want to watch is the budget,” Reed said. “That will be done by cutting some of the fat off from the top. I believe the sheriff’s [office] has too much at the top.”

Richards already has addressed contracts in the budget that weren’t active, which has saved the county about $50,000, the sheriff said. He also made a change to move all sheriff’s office expenditures into the operating budget, instead of some expenses potentially being hidden by drawing money out he office’s seizure funds — particularly the Sheriff’s Trust — to pay the bills. The move is a bid to increase spending transparency by doing away with a practice held over from a previous sheriff administration, he said.

“I’ve been concerned from a budget standpoint that [some of the expenses weren’t getting] budgeted properly because they are paid for out of that Sheriff’s Trust,” Richards said. “I don’t believe that is a proper way of doing business, because we have a budget that shows its costing this much money to run the sheriff’s office when were really spending more than that. It’s just coming out of this other pot. That money will run out at some point, and it’s being spent down.”

Reed said he cannot say he will cut the sheriff’s office budget, but he would like to maintain the budget that is set now. He said Richards has been loosely spending money.

“I think [Richards] is used to a department that has very deep pockets,” Reed said, referencing Richard’s time as an Overland Park Police Department detective. “I know the county does not, and therefore the money that we do get needs to be watch very closely and wisely. I’m not going to say I’m going to cut the budget with prices going up every day, but I would like to at least maintain where we’re at and give the best coverage that we can.”

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