With less than a month until the 2018 elections, the American Police Officers Alliance is presenting a series of posts about important Sheriff’s races across the country. First we’ll look at several races in Illinois, a state whose violent crime rate has increased even as the country’s rates have declined. The races feature a variety of compelling stories that will voters need to take into account as they select the Sheriffs who will work to lead their departments while battling the opioid epidemic and other threats to public safety. Across Illinois there are several controversies and contentious races that need to be addressed and moved past in order for these Sheriffs to improve and strengthen community relationships and restore trust in law enforcement.
DuPage County Sheriff John Zaruba’s retirement after over 20 years in that role has opened up a race between Republican James Mendrick and Democrat Gregory Whalen. The district historically has voted Republican, but went to Clinton in 2016, so it’s hard to predict the outcome in 2018 and results likely will be close to the end of tallies. Mendrick presents a choice of a veteran who started his law enforcement career as a patrol officer and worked his way up to commander. His opponent Whalen has experience not only as a police officer, but also as a firefighter and paramedic having served in Glencoe, where public safety workers are cross-trained as a standard.
Both Mendrick and Whalen prioritize the opioid crisis as a top responsibility with a focus on managing mental health issues as a remedy, though they have slightly different takes on early identification of drug use and management. Mendrick is in favor of a cell phone app that parents would use to track key strokes on their children’s phones so they can monitor who their child is texting as well and he supports implementation of the Gold Star Achievement Award that rewards students from grades 6-12 who, with parental consent, accept drug testing. Whalen is planning on more public education to help parents recognize early signs of drug use and in-person referrals to social services to assist people who are addicted. The race will be close and likely impacted by participation in up-ballot voting for the 6th District Congress.
Foot injuries are a surprisingly significant factor in a contentious race in Kane County. Kane County Sheriff-Incumbent Sheriff Donald Kramer, a Republican is going up against Ron Hain. Hain has received endorsements from the previous two sheriffs whose tenures ran from 1994-2014: Pat Perez who is a Democrat like Hain, and Ken Ramsey, a Republican. Hain has made strong statements against Kramer’s qualifications due to his absence from a hostage situation where a nurse was taken hostage and sexually assaulted by an inmate who was there recovering from a surgery. Kramer, who was in contact with his Chief Deputy and others during the incident, was not present due to having torn off his toenail at a conference. Kramer has his own questions about Hain’s presence on the job noting he has only worked less than two months over close to two years. Hain has stated this is because his foot was injured after an attack by a dog at a residence where he was responding to a call and Hain returned to work prematurely after reconstructive surgery. Kane has 30 years experience in law enforcement including 16 as Sergeant. Hain has 22 and is currently county SWAT team assistant leader.
Incumbent Sheriff Mike Kelley, a Democrat and one of his Sheriff’s deputies Jim Reilly, a Republican are running against each other in Will County. Kelley has over 30 years continuous experience and is challenging Reilly over his decision to leave the Joliet Police department to work in the private sector before returning to law enforcement in 2013. Reilly has secured the endorsement of Fred Hayes a high-raking police official who questions Kelley’s leadership. Kelley has worked to combat the opioid crisis by several tactics that have contributed to the decrease in overdoses in the country despite and increase in heroin use. Reilly has made a lack of diversity in the police department one of his key issues.
Sheriff Mark Curran, a Republican is the incumbent in Lake County and is battling a public perception challenge after making comments described as “sexually charged” during a morning radio show and being criticized for the way staffers in the jail division handled an inmate’s death. He started his career as a lawyer in the State’s Attorney’s office, practiced law privately for several years, and became sheriff I 2006. Curran has kept department expenditures under budget for 11 consecutive years, led the formation of the Lake County Sheriff’s Gang Task Force which is a combine federal and local effort, and worked to combat the opioid crisis through administration of the opioid reversal drug Naloxone implementing treatment programs for addicted inmates.
Democrat John Idleburg is challenging Curran. After serving in the Marine Corps, Idelburg became a Lake County Sheriff Deputy before serving as police detective, and later a US Treasury Department Special Agent providing security for foreign dignitaries at the United Nation and the 2002 Winter Olympics. Idleburg wants to prioritize training and proper equipment for first responders, promote based on merit and experience, and address recidivism with a combination of substance abuse counseling, education, and life skills courses.
The race for Peoria County Sheriff is competitive, with previous Sheriff Mike McCoy retiring after 15 years. Brian Asbell, a Republican who was appointed to the post after McCoy’s retirement, has prioritized a $1 million budget deficit that was cut by $1.2 million through buyouts, restructures, and renegotiated contracts as well as prioritizing reducing recidivism by adding mental health services for the jail. His opponent, Democrat Brian Fengel has spent the last 21 years as Police Chief of Bartonville. Fengel is highly qualified for addressing opioid challenges serving on the Illinois Opioid Crisis Response Advisory Council, the Central Illinois Emergency Response Team and the Multi-County Narcotics Enforcement Group. Both candidates plan to address and prevent nepotism which has been an issues in the department.
Different Counties, Shared Challenges
Competitive races may keep these elections interesting, but the long lasting effects of these leaders’ plan to turn the tide of the opioid epidemic and it’s impact will hold the attention not only of the local counties, but of the nation as many local departments struggle to find answers. If some are found in Illinois with its well-documented crime issues, then there is hope for every community. The next stage of this battle will take place on November 6th and voters can contribute by showing up at the polls.