Sheriff candidates outline needs

Editor’s note: Last week, Joe Baker’s article “JoDaviess candidate has unusual donors” drew several comments. Lt. Tim Wand, the subject of the article, called to say this paper had done a “hatchet job” on him and that Baker was “biased against this administration.” Wand also said, in his opinion, Baker did not ask him about all the individuals cited in the article, but Baker had quoted him “fairly and accurately.” Wand was invited to respond in writing for this issue but did not. Karron and Paul Mills of Galena e-mailed us to say: “Thank you so much for enlightening this county. I wish our newspapers could do the same. I like honesty.” For years, individuals in JoDaviess County have complained to this newspaper about law enforcement in the area. The Rock River Times truly strives to be “The Voice of the Community,” and we welcome all sides of any issue every week. Deadline for comment is every Thursday for the subsequent Wednesday publication. F.S.

This week, we take a look at the other three candidates running for Jo Daviess County Sheriff. They are: Leo Hefel, Elton Self, and Gerald Bennett. Bennett is the only Democrat in the race.

Hefel is a former Illinois State Trooper and is a veteran of that department. He also served several years with the Galena Police Department. Hefel has been a Jo Daviess County resident for many years.

An examination of his donor list reveals that Hefel has mostly received small amounts of money from a number of people. Nearly all his contributors are residents of Jo Daviess County. Only one donor raised any red flags. That was Michelle Shanley. “I didn’t realize that until after I took the money,” Hefel said.

Court records show that she was arrested May 25, 2005, on a charge of possession of cocaine. The records also show the charge was first reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor and then dismissed at the request of the state’s attorney.

The Rock River Times asked Hefel what he thought is the greatest need of the Jo Daviess County Sheriff’s Department.

“The biggest need is supervision,” he said. “We need now to have somebody come in that is going to overlook the whole operation. We need to put the best people in top positions. The other need is to regain [public] trust. I think the public has lost that trust. We have to promote people on merit.

“The most common complaint from the public is that people are fearful of the police. I’ve heard that throughout the county. People do not trust the police. The fear is more on the eastern end [of the county] than on the west end. It really is prevalent there [east end]. There’s just one story after another.”

TRRT: How do you intend to deal with the drug problem there?

“Drugs have to be tackled a couple of ways,” Hefel said. He said if officers arrest young people with small amounts of marijuana and give them black marks on their records, it will stay with them for life. “We have to go an alternative route,” he said. “The same thing as programs for drunk drivers. The court would order them to pay a fee to attend the program. Charges would be dropped. If they continue drug-free, there would be no mark on their records. The other thing is, we have to go after the dealers and sellers. I don’t see that’s happening much. There are ways to get that done.”

At a recent candidate forum, the candidates were asked how they would deal with the department budget and any budget problems. Hefel said he would bring in the budget overruns and go after grants. He stated also that he would stop the use of squad cars for personal errands. The department, Hefel said, needs a Spanish-speaking officer, and he plans to hire one. “We are paying a lot of money now for translators.”

Another candidate, Tim Wand, told the audience that the departmental budget is under control and that it is under budget by $150,000. He said there is no issue with the budget.

Merri Berlage, Jo Daviess County Chairman, commented: “They have been over budget [in the past]. Last year [income and expenses] has not been audited. In the last few years, they have been way over budget. That’s the facts.”

Elton Self, the other Republican candidate, served as a platoon commander in Vietnam. He has 23 years training in police work and spent a number of years with the state police. Self served as a shift commander in five counties. He is a former candidate for sheriff.

Self has only a few donors, most of them retired police officers. He said he met most of them when they lived in Galena, in the normal course of business. Only one is a resident of Chicago. Another who lives in Highland Park became acquainted with Self when he bought a house from Self.

We asked Self what he would do about the drug problem. “Drugs are a terrible thing,” he said. “Two boys [recently were] found dead in a car with overdoses of tainted heroin, it looks like. [That was in Maywood. The young men were from Jo Daviess County.]

“I would like to get in [to office] to curb these drugs and manufacturing of methamphetamine—that’s the big drug now," Self said. "I would like to establish a deputy force of retired officers. We could have many more eyes and ears out there.

“I’ve talked about establishing a fund where any officer, not just deputies, can go to school and be reimbursed. Education and professionalism go hand in hand. I also would like to see more training about sex abuse and domestic violence.”

As to the most frequent complaint heard from the public about the sheriff’s department, Self said: “I’ve heard questions about unsolved cases. There are still a lot of questions about mysterious, unsolved deaths. The trust issue is another thing. From time to time, I hear about officers being discourteous.”

TRRT: What do you think about the department’s handling of tax income?

“I had a discussion with Merri Berlage [county board chairman]. She said we are on target with the budget. I think she said in 2004, they were $400,000 over budget. The next administration needs to take an overall look at the operation and be prudent with tax dollars.”

TRRT: Does the county need more deputies? Self said: “We do need more manpower but how to get it? We are locked in contractually to 12-hour shifts. There was a question, ‘Would I support a public safety tax?’ If I felt the county was in an unsafe condition and that was the only way, yes, I would support it.” At the recent forum, he said, in the case of such a tax being implemented, he would want feedback from county residents every six months.

Gerald Bennett, the chief of Lanark police, also is a Jo Daviess County resident. He graduated from Galena High School and joined the Marine Corps, serving in the first Gulf War. He is a graduate of the Illinois State Police Academy and has served as a patrol officer for Freeport police and Warren police. He became chief at Lanark in 2002.

Bennett sees cooperation as the key to improving county law enforcement.

“The first priority is to strengthen the ties between the community and the sheriff. One way to do that is to provide greater access to the sheriff, greater coverage of the county, and to enhance and initiate programs to aid families and children.

“I have different complaints from different areas of the county. The complaints can be combined; that’s something I would like to see,” Bennett said.

Asked about public trust and if it is still there, he said: “It’s not about losing trust. People are just hopeful it will change for the better.”

As to the drug problem, Bennett said: “The first problem is not only the drugs coming into the county, but the drugs being produced in the county that need attention. I believe that officers, law enforcement, teachers, concerned citizens and parents and grandparents, by working as a team, can give our children the right tools to make a difference in their lives.”

TRRT asked if any improvement in training of officers is needed. Bennett replied: “I believe in a philosophy of cross-training. Where an officer is trained in a specific task,
he should be training other deputies.”

At the recent candidate forum, Bennett said grant money is needed to keep the budget under control. He also said that he would support a public safety tax if people wanted it.

Bennett has no donor list at this point. TRRT asked how he could run a campaign without donations. He explained that, because he is unopposed on the Democratic ticket, he has been able to spend very little money. He said he has had one donation from a resident of Galena. He plans to hold a fund-raiser in April. “Once we reach $3,000 [in donations and expenses], we have to submit a D2 report by law,” he said.

From the March 15-21, 2006, issue

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