Wolfinger seeks Kootenai County sheriff position

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After nearly three decades with the Kootenai County Sheriff's Department, Ben Wolfinger said he is ready to tackle the county's highest law enforcement position.

"It's time to step up and be a leader," said Wolfinger, a major with the sheriff's department who has filed to run for sheriff.

Wolfinger pointed out that since starting with the sheriff's department in 1983, he has worked in every branch, including jail, patrol and detectives.

He was promoted to captain in 1995, and appointed to major in 2009.

"I've had the opportunity to serve in all aspects of the department and managerial aspects," said Wolfinger, 50. "That broad experience has taught me not only how the department works, but how it interacts with all avenues in the community and the criminal justice system."

As sheriff, he would increase that interaction with members of the community, he said, "bringing them in so they know what we're doing," and allowing the department to better understand public concerns.

He would also try to improve relations between the sheriff's department and the county commissioners, he added.

"It's no secret the commissioners and the sheriff have not had a harmonious relationship," Wolfinger said. "That certainly can be worked on, and it benefits everyone. It benefits employees and the public, and does the best service to the community."

The Republican candidate recognized that the overcrowded jail continues to be a pressing issue. He noted that the county is spending tax dollars shipping inmates to other facilities in the state, primarily in Lewiston.

Pursuing a jail expansion would be a decision that falls onto the commissioners, he said.

But Wolfinger would recommend that over what the county is doing now, he said.

"We also know the public has spoken pretty loud the last couple of times," he said of the last two times voters struck down initiatives to fund such an expansion. "If they say 'We're not going to try that,' hey, that's fine. We'll have to work on where we house inmates in other facilities."

Wolfinger has a law enforcement degree from North Idaho College.

He also served five years on the Coeur d'Alene City Council, and was chair of the board of directors for the Coeur d'Alene Chamber of Commerce.

"Community involvement is huge, because you can't work in a vacuum," he said. "That's where you learn whatever people's concerns really are."

He has two grown sons and lives with his wife, Mary, in Coeur d'Alene.

"Bottom line, I bring a North Idaho perspective, North Idaho values of integrity, common sense and service," Wolfinger said. "I think that's important."

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