‘Clean’ sheriff’s race enters homestretch
The race for sheriff – typically one of the most hard-fought political battles in Harrison County – is heading into the homestretch with little dust in its wake. And that’s not because the candidates are slogging through mud.
“During the primary, I had a tough bunch against me, but everything stayed good and clean,” said Michael Deatrick of Laconia, the Democrats’ pick in the Spring Primary to win on Nov. 5. “I hope the fall election will stay as clean.”
His opponent, Republican incumbent Sheriff C. Wendell Smith agrees, hoping to focus on the issues. He defines those as some of the problems he has begun to address since taking over a year ago, when the Republicans elected him during a caucus to replace the late sheriff, William E. (Bill) Carver, who died unexpectedly of a heart attack in September.
Smith also won the Republican Primary in 1990, but lost that fall to incumbent sheriff Edward L. Davis Jr., who also died last year.
Deatrick’s main focus in the campaign will be on the issues, he said, adding that he knows nothing about the circumstances behind a recent lawsuit brought against the sheriff’s department. Therefore, he won’t discuss the matter.
But Smith wanted to clarify that the allegation of sexual harassment by his chief, Jody Wilson, refers to an incident alleged on Oct. 18, prior to the sheriff taking office that night following the caucus and oath of office.
Smith said his goals since taking office have been to run the department professionally, maintain constant training programs for officers, continue to modernize the department’s equipment and to maintain a high level of morale, not only among police officers but also in the correction’s and communication’s departments.
“I want to finish the work I started this year,” said Smith, 62, of Corydon.
So far, Smith said he has used no tax dollars to provide updated, automated video cameras that turn on automatically when an officer makes a stop. (“This could save a lot of lawsuits,” Smith said.)
Funds in the sheriff’s commissary account were used to make those purchases. Taxes from Caesars’ gambling boat at Bridgeport and the sheriff’s commissary funds have also been used to replace outdated radar equipment, purchase new police radios and emergency strobe lights for better visibility on some cruisers, cell phones for supervisors and a modernized computer system for the office.
Smith’s plans if elected include purchasing computers for cruisers to allow officers to obtain information almost immediately, not only on license plate checks but also, through the Global Information System now being installed by the county, to pinpoint locations via satellite.
“That’s modernization,” Smith said.
Referring to the need for homeland security, Smith said: “I want the best training available for our people because we are at war with the enemy, and we don’t even know who it is.”
If successful, Deatrick, 57, Laconia, said his top agenda as sheriff would be to increase day-time patrols countywide.
“My personal opinion is we have too few people on the day shift,” Deatrick said. “That’s when we have the most burglaries.”
He added: “I’m a big believer in patrols. The more they see police cars, the more of a deterrent it is.”
Smith disagrees. “As anyone in law enforcement knows, the biggest problem is on the second shift, when people are coming home from work, they’re tired and there’s more accidents,” Smith said. “There are more family squabbles in the evening. The biggest part of the runs fare from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.”
To increase daytime patrols, Deatrick said he would rely more on reserve officers (unpaid volunteers) to patrol at night.
“We’re going to get a handle on the burglaries, and we’re going to work hard on the drug situation.
“The first year will be a tough year, getting the right people in the right places,” he said.
Keeping morale high will also be a challenge, Deatrick said. “If you can keep all your people in the happy mode, willing to come to work and do their job, that’s the biggest challenge of all,” he said.
Police officers sometimes miss out when it comes to spending time with family, and that can take its toll, Deatrick said. “Sometimes tension gets high,” he said, adding that he will strive for a schedule that will allow officers quality time off, such as an occasional weekend. That can be accomplished with 10-hour days, which he favors, Deatrick said.
He also intends to hold a meeting with all departments the day he takes office. “I will put guidelines down of what I expect out of each officer.”
Deatrick added: “If a woman thinks she has been harassed, it will stop immediately and vice versa. I ant everybody treated fair and equally.”
If elected, Deatrick will appoint current detective Gary Gilley as chief and his wife, Joyce, as matron. (Joyce Deatrick has some 10 years experience in the department and is currently recovering from surgery.)
Smith said he has already appointed Wilson chief and supervisors over each department and shift. “I am a businessman,” he said. “My focus is to put key people in those departments to make sure they are run the way they are supposed to.”