The race to serve as Newaygo County’s Sheriff has been an active one with a lot of liveliness on local social media by supporters of both sides. It has not been an easy go with a great deal of emotion attached and...
...the seemingly mandatory accusations and cross accusations that accompany elections of this nature making their way onto pages and conversations everywhere.
In an effort to help bring a little candidate awareness to any voters who may have not yet settled on their choice we selected a series of questions from folks throughout the community. As we said to the candidates when delivering these for their perusal and responses we feel they are fair, insightful and well crafted by the inquiring minds posing them.
We did not set a word limit on answers thus the responses differ quite significantly in length. Some of Mr. Hedlund’s answers are more than twice as long as those provided by Mr. Mendham but nonetheless we reprinted each answer from each candidate in its entirety allowing our readers to do their own editing for length if desired.
We will be posting the answers in two segments and readers can expect part II to appear 2-3 days after part I hits our pages.
We at N3 wish to express our appreciation to the community members who took the time to help make this forum possible and to the candidates for their timely responses.
N3 Editorial Team
1. What are the major challenges facing the sheriff's department today and how do you plan to address them?
Like other law enforcement agencies, the NCSO is not immune to the many challenges that departments face on a daily basis. Listed below, in no particular order, is what I believe to be the paramount issues which require the greatest amount of attention and discernment.
1. Rising costs of equipment, technology and personnel related expenditures.
2. Creating an environment that values trust, confidence, and transparency within the law enforcement community. Encourage a community oriented policing style even when not responding to a call, complaint, or emergency.
3. Restore educational and job training programs within the jail facility.
4. Hire a jail administrator.
5. A fiscally responsible approach to purchasing and outfitting officers, staff, and support personnel that will provide for a more responsive and effective department.
1. Renewal of the existing Road Patrol/Public Safety millage on August 2nd. I have been speaking about this millage to all groups and many township boards for the last 12 months. The MSU Extension Office has put out a “Voters Guide” regarding the millage renewal. This will be disseminated along with press releases by the Sheriff. The public should be aware that this is a “renewal” of a millage that has been in place since 1987. It is not a new tax and it funds the majority of the Sheriff’s Deputies working in Newaygo County.
2. The decade’s old, often toxic environment in which some Sheriff’s Department employees have in the past, chosen to operate in and worse, drag other employees into their toxic work worlds. Employee grievances are important and must be (and have been) addressed at all levels when the grievances had merit. Fairness and recognition of good work of the staff is paramount and a top priority. However, negative behavior on the part of some of the staff will be dealt with as it is in all successful organizations; with these four principles being applied fairly and consistently:
Mission. Why are we here? To create workplace “drama” to further our own personal goals and agendas? Absolutely not. We are here to serve the public and to enforce the law. We are duty bound to keep our focus on our Mission.
Rules of the Road. As enforcers of the law, we should do our level best to follow the law, our department policies and certainly the Constitution that we swore an oath to support and defend.
Performance and Standards. We, as individuals and as an organization, should insist on high levels of service to our citizens. Our standards regarding knowledge, training and service should be at a level where “the bar is set very high”.
Accountability. We as public servants are accountable to the public. We are accountable to our profession and we are accountable to be consistently striving for high levels of performance and service. Whether we actually hold ourselves accountable is the question. This must be done and this is being done while I am Sheriff.
3. An outdated model of policing Newaygo County. A large percentage of the population of Newaygo County resides in the southern third of our county. We need to evolve to better meet the public’s demands for increased presence and faster response times in all areas of our county. Attempts have been made, but they have been short-lived and unsuccessful. I am committed to putting a sub- station in the southern end of our county. A sub-station that is permanent, staffed and where the services that are offered by the Sheriff in White Cloud, can also be accessed at the sub-station. This law enforcement model will take much collaboration and cooperation to be completed.
4. The northern portion of our county has vast areas of national forest, rural land and many miles of state and county roads. The needs for that portion of the county need to be examined more closely through the S.A.R.A. model of community policing and we must develop a plan and a new law enforcement model for that portion of the county too.
5. Our Jail. We must and will continue to train and equip our jail with the latest professional development plans and equipment in order to maintain a safe and orderly jail. This is an absolute must for the protection of staff, inmates and the public.
6. Jail Administrator. Our Jail Administrator position remains unfilled after many attempts to fill the position with a qualified candidate. Our jail is unique and is more of a correctional facility as opposed to a normal county jail. We not only house local inmates, we house Federal Prisoners under contract with the United States Marshal’s Service. Our Jail Administrator needs to have a strong correctional administrative background and experience in running such a facility. Twice in the last year, we have attracted qualified applicants, only to be turned down due to the county pay level for this position. I have had to make do with re-distributing many of those duties between the Undersheriff, Assistant Jail Administrator and myself. Our new county administrator is aware of this issue and we are looking into hiring a search firm to help us find the right candidate and are willing to re-examine the level of pay for the position.
2. Is your philosophy or standard for justice in Newaygo County based on a restorative justice model or a punitive justice model? Please share your reasoning for your answer.
Both. Even though both are very expensive, the punitive model is the easiest to implement and the one that most people in our society have come to expect.
Criminal acts must be punished and we normally do that through fines, probation, loss of privileges and incarceration. Punitive.
I am a strong advocate for certain inmates being able to go with supervised work crews of inmates to do work for our community. Cemeteries, parks, roadside cleanup etc. We have done exactly those work projects and will continue to do even more in the future. Programs like this serve two purposes. It helps the offender realize that they are actually paying their debt to society by doing positive works. It also shows the public that although the offenders are still incarcerated, they are being taught responsibility and that they must re-pay society for their deeds.
Regarding the restorative model of justice, many people who are incarcerated have never had much, if any real responsibility training in their lives. I would love to see a program that provides inmates with a “responsibility coach” or “responsibility training” not only upon release but while incarcerated.
Most of us who have never been on the wrong side of the law do not understand the generational thinking and lack of real responsibility training that is absent in the life of many law violators. We take for granted the fact that we were taught responsibility in life at a very young age. Small things like, having to go to school on time and regularly, doing work around the house, taking responsibility for personal actions (usually negative actions), obtaining money through legal vs. illegal means, etc. Many things that we just do because we were taught to do them when we were young. Many offenders have never been given any training in being a responsible citizen. In fact, many of them have been given the exact opposite training and reinforcement.
I believe that our inmate work crew program fills both the punitive and restorative model of justice roles and does it in a manner that we in Newaygo County can afford and that our public will support. We will continue and expand this program in the future.
As a law enforcement officer, it is my duty to uphold the United States Constitution, the Constitution of this State, and local law and ordinances. I believe that it is my role to work with the court system to make sure each person is dealt with professionally and equitability. Each case is unique and each has a different outcome.
In order for certain offenders, like drug users, to assimilate back into society, programs should be available and utilized. Rehabilitation programs and job skill programs are necessary to not only treat those who seek treatment, but provide them with the tools to become productive, contributing members to the community.
3. How important is collaboration with other law enforcement agencies and how do you plan to collaborate with these agencies to improve law enforcement in the county?
Collaboration with other agencies is one of the greatest and necessary tools that we have. Everything from sharing information, training, equipment, and personnel provides each agency with greater resources and cost savings measures. This will be more important in the years to come as costs continually rise.
As Sheriff, I plan to implement lines of communication that direct people to a single source that meets their needs. Furthermore, using mutual aid agreements will help ensure the sharing of resources we currently have and allow us to take advantage of resources other agencies are willing to offer.
Collaboration is very important especially if done to eliminate duplication of effort and to increase efficiency. The officers from varying agencies in Newaygo County work successfully together every day.
I would like to explore a new realm of collaboration. An in depth examination of police calls for service will be done to determine peak times, peak days of the week, types of calls and take a better look at our response times. I truly believe that we can provide a sub-station in the southern portion of our county, where much of our calls for service originate, has larger numbers of crashes and is where a large portion of our population resides. This sub-station would be staffed with five deputies, one sergeant, one detective and one full-time civilian employee. If we collaborate with city police departments and the Michigan State Police, we easily could provide a southern county law enforcement center that is open to the public during business hours and runs a full complement of law enforcement services out of that sub-station.
In addition, this could allow the rest of our road patrol deputies to be assigned to other areas of the county on a routine and consistent basis. Response times could be improved upon and we could provide more patrols on secondary roads, in all parts of the county. If done correctly, it could also enhance safety for the police officers.
We are currently in the beginning stages of exploring a potential collaboration project with the Court Administrator to share a new deputy position. This deputy would do Friend of the Court investigations, and child abuse and child neglect cases. This would free up our detective bureau and our road patrol from the large number of child abuse/neglect cases that we handle each year. The funding would at least in part, come from the State of Michigan.
We have collaborated with the Newaygo Police Department, the Michigan State Police, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the townships of Croton, Brooks, Ashland and Garfield to provide patrols of the Muskegon River; both on the water and on the river corridor roads and landings. This is a project that as Chief of Police in Newaygo I obtained a grant to begin the program. The grant was in excess of $250,000. Part of that funding provided special river boats that are still in use today for river enforcement. Now funded by the various townships and the county, it has proven to be a very successful program that has drastically reduced the number of issues that have been a summertime problem for years and years on the Muskegon River.
4. What is the greatest safety concern for the citizens of Newaygo County and how will you address that concern?
The greatest safety concern for our citizens centers around substance abuse; alcohol and drugs. Whether it be drunk/impaired driving, driving while drugged, selling drugs, exposing our children to drugs and or drug components, criminal acts committed due to drug and alcohol addiction/dependency, assaults related to substance abuse and the negative economic impact that substance abuse costs a community (lost work time, treatment, incarceration and social harm).
Substance abuse and the negative consequences of that abuse costs society greatly; economically, loss of lives, injuries, increased crime rates, broken families/homes, etc.
We will continue to enforce drunk and drugged driving laws. We will continue to collaborate with substance abuse professionals to do underage alcohol enforcement. We will continue to be an active member of the Central Michigan Enforcement Team (CMET) to combat illegal drugs.
We will continue to work with addiction specialists to learn more about addiction; how to detect it, how to handle people with drug addiction and specifically, how to handle those persons while they are incarcerated in our jail. We will also continue to expose inmates in our jail to the substance abuse treatment that our county offers.
The greatest safety concern for our citizens is the escalating use of illicit hardcore narcotics and prescription drugs. The lack of coordination between law enforcement agencies do not allow us to attack this problem head-on. We are seeing an increase in this type of activity among youth and it is necessary that the Sheriff's Department leads the campaign for prevention and elimination.
Continual drug use leads to the increase of other criminal activity such as break-ins, assaults and domestic violence issues. Bringing together agencies, not just law enforcement, but DHS, Community Mental Health, Arbor Circle, and schools will provide the Sheriff's Department greater resources to fight this growing epidemic.
5. If elected sheriff, how do you plan to engage with the community to share what the sheriff's department does, improve safety, and improve trust with the department? What types of community events might your officers engage in?
One of the best ways to start engaging the community is being visible and approachable. Law enforcement will be pro-active in community organizations such as youth sports, the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, the Commission on Aging, and the School Districts. An open and effective line of communication with the public through the media, social-media, and personal contacts will allow the Sheriff's Department to better meet the needs of the community and address concerns.
What I have done since becoming Sheriff is to continue being accessible to the public. For over 30 years, I have been one of the few law enforcement officers who publishes his telephone number in the phone directory. Additionally, I make it a point to attend as many township meetings as possible. I provide cell phone information to township supervisors and other local officials and I pride myself in following through with questions, concerns and even complaints. Additionally, I have continued the program began by my predecessor, of having deputies “assigned” to townships in the county and requiring that the deputies attend at least one meeting in their assigned townships per year.
I have attended, and will continue to attend and/or have a representative in my absence, community events, stakeholder meetings and community group functions.
Improving trust with the community needs to be improved. We are doing that now through transparency and accountability. Additionally, I have established and require a standardized method and policy for investigating complaints from citizens; complaints about customer service, complaints about officers or complaints about other staff members. This process has become quite routine and normal in the law enforcement community but was not always followed here at the sheriff’s office. It is followed now. Complaints by citizens are investigated. In the rare case where an employee has acted improperly, we rectify that mistake and take appropriate corrective action where necessary.
As one of the original founders of the Newaygo County Kid’s Day and Marshall Memorial Park in Newaygo, I have a strong sense of commitment to both of these programs. Additionally, I absolutely love the CSI camp that our department conducts. This is a program started by my predecessor and we will continue that program.
One of our goals is to establish a Sheriff’s Posse along with a new Sheriff’s Reserve Deputy program. The Sheriff’s Posse should be included in search and rescue events, the County Fair, parades and be an integral part and role model in the well-being, health and safety of the pets and animals in our county.
The Reserve program which I will also build and enhance, will be offered to our townships and our county parks system to help provide safety and security at special events, in our campgrounds and at public access sites on the Muskegon River and in township parks. Additionally, these trained reserve deputies, will work with our road patrol deputies and assist with traffic control and safety patrols during large gatherings.
I want to build a department that better responds to the needs of the community and evolves with the changes in our county.
There you are Near Northians, the first five of our ten questions
Stay tuned for Part II and coming soon will be the answers from the two candidates for Newaygo County Clerk.
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