Why do you want to be the Morgan County Sheriff?
I’ve learned many things in my 25 years of law enforcement. 2 of those things can be used to answer this question. 1) You leave the place better than when you started. I will continue to work on leaving law enforcement better than it is now and when I say that I’m not talking about just the Sheriff’s Department but all local law enforcement. I have a positive, outgoing personality which will be an asset as Sheriff when dealing with difficult situations. I want to keep pushing Officers to be the best they can be and provide the best service that can be given. 2) You train your replacement. The next kid hired may be the next Field Training Officer, the next Sergeant, the next Lieutenant, or even the next Sheriff or Chief. It’s my job to provide the best training, the best equipment, and a positive work environment to these new Officers so they can reach their true potential.
What do you think is the single most important skill of being a good sheriff?
The Sheriff has to have many tools in their skill set. I suppose when we discuss skills we have to discuss personality traits. My personality trait, my skill, I will depend on the most is being approachable. The Sheriff has to have the frame of mind of being available to the public and being available to the Department wherever and whenever the call arises. A skill which goes hand in hand with being approachable is the ability to communicate. A law enforcement leader must be able to listen and then have the ability to explain why and how things are done. We may not always agree but at least we have heard each other’s side. I do this on a day-to-day basis whether I’m out buying groceries or having a meal with my family. I am always open to healthy, positive conversations.
As the sheriff you would have supervise 14 sworn deputies responsible for the enforcement of traffic laws and criminal laws. What experience do you have in managing personnel?
For the past 13+ years I have been a command staff Officer with Jacksonville first getting promoted to Sergeant and later getting promoted to Lieutenant a little over 7 years ago. I am a past Field Training Officer (a FTO trains new hires), I was the coordinator of the Field Training Program for several years as well. In addition, I am currently the Region 6 Team Commander for Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System. ILEAS Region 6 covers 14 counties and approximately 50 Officers under my direct command in West Central Illinois including, but not limited to, Officers from Jacksonville, Peoria County, Springfield, and Quincy. ILEAS provides mutual aid to any area in the United States. I have assisted with coordinating responses to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, OH., the North Dakota pipeline dispute, as well as natural disasters in Washington, IL., Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico
I have over 1000 hours of classroom and hands-on continuing education with approximately half of that in Leadership and Supervision. The most recent 2 classes I attended were a 16 hour course on Media Relations and a 24 hour course on Managing the Small Police Agency.
Every day I work I gain hands-on experience with my shift. I either respond to the calls with them or provide guidance to those Officers in tough, unique calls for service. I will not let that change if elected Sheriff. I will still have a connection with my coworkers and with the community.
With all that has happened in the last year in this country, how will you foster an environment that ensures fair treatment of all people served by the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office?
A fair environment is ensured by having policies which are up to date and applicable to our Department. A fair environment means holding people accountable when the policies are not followed. A fair environment is one with Officers who are trained to be good communicators. They must be trained to be able to explain situations and be able to listen to the needs of the community members we serve. All of these elements start with the Sheriff.
Morgan County is mainly a rural community. What are the specific issues in rural Morgan County and how will you address those issues?
I grew up in rural Morgan County the son of a farmer and homemaker. A great number of my family members still live and work in the rural community. To say I have a vested interest in what service is provided to my family and yours is an understatement. The people of Morgan County need to know when they call for help it will show up. When the Officer is on that call they will treat it as the #1 issue to be solved.
As far as what issues needs addressed I would say interaction with schools and businesses is a huge concern to law enforcement in this day and age. Officers will be mandated to make contact with at least 1 school and 1 business during their assigned shift.
Not to be lost in this conversation is the security of your property. Your home, your farm, and your buildings should not be seen as easy targets for any perpetrator. I want the county roads patrolled in order to be a visible deterrent to anyone thinking they can come to your property and take what you have worked your whole life to achieve. Will we stop every crime? Unfortunately, we won’t but we will make it a hell of a lot harder on criminals
What is your opinion of consolidated 911 and it is working for the off officers and citizens of the Morgan County Community?
I interact with the employees of West Central Dispatch on a day-to-day basis and overall I am impressed with how it is going so far. The combined dispatch center is still in its toddler stage but what I’ve seen so far is very encouraging. The employees will call me with questions and we grow and learn together. They have exceptional leadership in Phil McCarty, Beth Hopkins, and Dana Blakeman. The dispatchers are the real first-responders simply by answering the phone. They have been trained in much more than just answering the phone and telling an Officer where to respond. They have received training in medical dispatching and are able to give life-saving advice to the caller.
I especially believe having all the dispatchers in the same room is a great asset. In the past an Officer would arrive on scene, assess the situation, and then formulate a response. Let’s say the Officer needs the Fire Department to respond. In the past, the dispatcher would have to pick up the phone, dial the Fire Department, and wait for them to answer before getting them dispatched. With WCD, all the dispatcher has to do is push a button on the screen and they are connected with whatever agency is needed.
Assess the recent performance of the sheriff’s department. If elected, would you continue in the same direction or change course?
Being in Law Enforcement is like riding a roller coaster: ups and downs, sharp turns, all at an exciting speed. I want to ensure the Department will receive more positive comments than negative assessments. I want a consistent performance from all Deputies. I want the Deputies to receive more training than they receive now. I want all the employees to be held accountable to their actions by receiving both positive and negative evaluation. I want a case to show up on a defense attorney’s desk and upon seeing “Arrest by Morgan County” they look at their client and say, “You better plead guilty.”
What is biggest need of the sheriff’s department currently? What would you do to fill that need?
The Morgan County Sheriff’s Department has to assure the public there will be 24-hour patrol coverage. As I’ve stated before, not having 24-hour coverage is like playing baseball without an outfield. A big hurdle is going to be staffing. As the next Sheriff, I would be willing to get creative and think outside the box when it comes to staffing. The old saying of “doing more with less” will certainly apply to the staffing levels at the Sheriff’s Department for the near future. All Deputies will be in uniform and available for calls including me and the Chief Deputy. This question and question 9 go hand in hand. I will continue with my answer under the next question.
With a police officer and corrections officer shortage, do you expect to deal with overtime or do you support the need for more part-time officers to deal with possible overtime?
As I have done in the past with Jacksonville, I will actively try and recruit quality candidates for both the jail and patrol. I attended a Retention and Recruitment class and picked up some tips to work with the new generation of employees coming in to the workforce. If we can retain employees longer instead of losing them to larger, better paying departments the shortages will be more manageable. As I stated above, I will be willing to get creative with staffing to see what works to limit the amount of overtime. I’ve done some research and read the statute in reference to auxiliary Deputies. I know quite a few retired Officers in the area who would be willing to chip in on a part-time basis.
Over the past several years the occupation of Police Officer has been seen and portrayed by the national media as something less than desirable. If we take the example of this publication, The Source, Police Administrators should be pushing our own positive and upbeat message to young adults seeking employment in Law Enforcement. Then hopefully we get more people will apply and we have a better pool of candidates to choose from.
How do you define public safety and what policies and practices are you planning on implementing to help ensure it?
The first way to define public safety is simply by changing one word and calling it “public trust.” If the public trusts its Department they will be more willing to call upon us in times of need. If the public has trust in the Officers there will be a willingness to work together to solve problems. I will try to install in the Deputies a goal I try to attain for with each and every interaction I have with the public and that is hearing the words, “Thank you.” Police Officers have to be deal with some tough situations where emotions can often run high. If the public has faith in the Officer and believes the Officer has done the best they can do in accordance with policy, law, and ethics then public safety has been accomplished.
In what way will you implement current and available technology advancements to the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department? What benefits do you believe they will have on public and officer safety?
One of the items I would like to see implemented is the use of remote desktop for the Sheriff and Command Staff. At any given point of day or night, I would be able to log on to the computer system from any location and answer questions about certain calls or activities. I would also like to see the reporting (computer) system used by Jacksonville, Morgan County, South Jacksonville and other surrounding departments to have the ability to add narratives while out on the street. Right now, an Officer or Deputy has to return to the station to complete their reports. I think it will save time which will then be committed to servicing the community faster if the Deputies are out in their patrol cars instead of the station. I would also like to create a Facebook page for the Sheriff’s Department to better share information with the public.
I would also like to put in to practice the use of webinars. Deputies would be able to log on to a service which provides trainings at a minimal cost to the Department.
What is your experience with setting up a budget and using it to make sure staff, equipment, and building needs are met?
I have experience both from the private sector and my time as a Police Supervisor. I’ve been President of 2 Clubs which not only ran on a budget but dealt with special projects to advance both of those Clubs. My wife and I own and operate a small business in this area. We have the same approach as business owners in respect to budgeting as anyone would with their own money: If you don’t have it, you don’t spend it. You set priorities as to what purchases you want to make and set aside money for future purchases
The Jacksonville Police Department Command Staff formally meet once a month and the topics of discussion range over many topics. We discuss what grant money should be applied to what items based on priority to the Officers and Community. I’ve learned from Chief Mefford that communication and explaining to the City Council why things are a priority is paramount in achieving our goals. I look forward to these conversations with the County Commissioners if elected.
Would you encourage your deputies to talk to first time offenders, especially juveniles, as an effort to teach them the error of their ways?
By all means, Yes!, especially with juveniles As a court certified Juvenile Officer I see a lot of time committed to young offenders. We have at our discretion a tool known as “Station Adjustment.” The Police are able to set up a meeting with the juvenile and parents and set guidelines to correct unacceptable behavior instead of referring them to Probation or the Court system. We set up parameters such as school attendance, curfew, and community service. We have had juveniles picking up trash around the community as an immediate apology to the people they may have offended.
If you were elected, describe how the sheriff’s department would look/be four years from now?
I’m looking forward to having the best trained, most professional Department in the area. I want a Department full of community minded go-getters who go the extra mile in providing a service to the community. When people use the phrase “above and beyond” they will be referring to the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department. I want applicants lined up at our door trying to get a job here because they know our reputation is top-notch. We can all achieve this goal if you vote for me on Tuesday, March 20.
Personal Bio Information here: Anything you wish to ad about yourself.
I am a lifelong resident of Morgan County. I am the son of Ralph and Agnes Johnson of rural Pisgah. My wife, Mindi, and I have been married for 12 years and have 3 children together. I am a graduate of Routt High School and Sangamon State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Social Justice. I am an active member of Our Savior Church. I am a member of the Knights of Columbus, Elk’s, Moose, Kiwanis, and Women’s Republicans