Sheriff candidates face public - Coeur d'Alene Press: Local News

Sheriff candidates face public

Five hopefuls state their case during forum

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Posted: Thursday, February 23, 2012 12:15 am

COEUR d'ALENE - Kootenai County has a high turnover of deputies, noted Keith Hutcheson on Wednesday night, and he believes it's clear why.

"Where they're going is Spokane County," said Hutcheson, Coeur d'Alene Tribe police chief and candidate for Kootenai County sheriff. "They're making 22 percent more by crossing the state line."

Deputy retention, as well as jail overcrowding and officer prioritization were among the issues analyzed on Wednesday at a forum of sheriff candidates, held by the Coeur d'Alene Police Officers Association.

The approaching retirement of longtime Sheriff Rocky Watson has garnered five candidates campaigning to win the county's highest law enforcement position in the May 15 primary.

More than 100 members of the public turned out to hear the proposals and backgrounds of all the candidates, who include Hutcheson, Ben Wolfinger, John Green, Bob Foster and Adam Johnson.

Questions were posed by the Coeur Group, with the audience only observing.

Hutcheson said he would pursue deputy pay raises by reorganizing department positions.

He criticized the department's creation of five new administrative positions when more deputies are needed.

"Those dollars are out there, they just have to be allocated in the right direction," he said.

Adam Johnson, a former businessman, said he would free up dollars for pay increases - and also hopefully budget reductions - by cross training employees to fill multiple roles.

"The bottom line is we need to live within our means," Johnson said.

Ben Wolfinger said the sheriff needs to advocate to the county commissioners about improving the situations of department employees.

Wolfinger, a major with the sheriff's department who has worked for the agency since 1983, was the only candidate who said he would pursue building a new jail.

He noted that excess inmates are being housed in other jails both in and out of state, which is only a short-term solution.

"Those jails are going to fill up with their own prisoners, and we'll have to house further and further away," Wolfinger said, noting that 77 percent of the county jail's inmates are felons.

When Green, a Rathdrum attorney, was asked if he had said overcrowding could be solved by housing inmates in tents, he said that would be an illogical idea.

The former Texas deputy said the county must better classify its inmates, so fewer need to be housed elsewhere for a certain level of segregation.

"Maybe we're just arresting too many people. That's something we need to consider," Green said.

Ben Foster, a code enforcement officer with the Coeur d'Alene Police Department, said it's premature to offer solutions before understanding the problem firsthand.

Johnson and Hutcheson both spoke of housing inmates in the county's work-release building.

Wolfinger dubbed that impractical, as the structure isn't built to contain full-time inmates.

"Hardening such a facility would take an exorbitant amount of money to make it feasible," he said.

Hutcheson also said he would have the department use more technology, like creating a Twitter account giving updates on accidents, fires and amber alerts.

He would also try to cut costs, he said, like doing away with ballistic panels for sheriff's vehicles.

"That's $29,000. Boom, I could do that in the first day, getting rid of that," Hutcheson said.

Green censured the idea, arguing the doors are necessary protection during a shoot-out.

He added he has heard there is tension among employees in the sheriff's department, and would aim to provide a better working environment.

"I've heard a lot of qualified people left because they didn't feel they got a full shake when it came to promotions," he said.

Foster, who previously worked for law enforcement agencies in California, said he would budget by assessing and prioritizing everything the agency does.

That may or may not be lower than the department's $24 million budget, he said.

"Once we prioritize, we can turn to the cost of doing that business, and come up with the cost I believe is a logical requirement for that budget," he said.

Most candidates spoke of the need for more deputies on the streets, and pursuing a cooperative relationship with the county commissioners.

When candidates were invited to ask each other questions, Wolfinger questioned the credibility of Johnson's candidacy, considering the latter has no law enforcement background but does have a criminal record, including a guilty plea for heroin possession last year.

Johnson explained to the audience that he had nothing to hide, and that everyone has had challenges.

He plans to pursue programs addressing the sale and distribution of drugs in the area, he said. And though he has no law enforcement background, Johnson added, he will communicate with every employee to understand their roles and needs.

"Experience isn't a requisite to bring about positive change," Johnson said.

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30 comments:

  • jane_slot posted at 10:47 pm on Fri, Feb 24, 2012.

    jane_slot Posts: 81

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  • Rogue Cop posted at 10:19 am on Fri, Feb 24, 2012.

    Rogue Cop Posts: 2347

    Actually, our first and last line of defense against the provisions of the NDAA is VOTING.

    I didn't see or hear anything at the forum that would identify any of the candidates as being the kind of Sheriff who might deputize and activate a militia to stand against the feds. I understand the concern but what makes you think Green act any differently than Wolfinger in that scenario?

    Again, I think you are erroneously linking Wolfinger's phrase to mean that he would militarize the Sheriff's Department. The term "para-military" or "quasi-military" has been used for decades and has NOTHING to do with the NDAA.

    Johnson came across as articulate and well spoken, but if you noticed he read from prepared talking points most of the time. He's an intelligent guy but this County would become a comic spectacle if he was elected.

     
  • IdahoMan posted at 9:37 pm on Thu, Feb 23, 2012.

    IdahoMan Posts: 100

    Keven Johnson: "The issue is the dangers of police departments becoming militarized. This is especially important now - - more than ever before - - because of the recently passed NDAA and the provisions contained in it that allow the real military to arrest and detain U.S. citizens. The county sheriff is our last line of defense against this kind of tyranny..."

    +1

     
  • Keven Johnson posted at 8:49 pm on Thu, Feb 23, 2012.

    Keven Johnson Posts: 1327

    The issue is the dangers of police departments becoming militarized. This is especially important now - - more than ever before - - because of the recently passed NDAA and the provisions contained in it that allow the real military to arrest and detain U.S. citizens. The county sheriff is our last line of defense against this kind of tyranny, and I have serious doubts about whether the citizens of Kootenai country could depend on Wolfinger to uphold our rights. Foster and Hutcheson came across to me as not really grasping the significance of the office of sheriff beyond the tasks of managing the jail and arresting drunk drivers. Adam Johnson (no relation to me) came across as surprisingly articulate but didn't really say anything substantive. John Green is the only one that not only has experience in the day to day tasks of law enforcement, but also understands the broader constitutional role of the county sheriff.

     
  • Rogue Cop posted at 6:50 pm on Thu, Feb 23, 2012.

    Rogue Cop Posts: 2347

    ancientemplar: I stated it exactly as Wolfinger said it and exactly as you said it. I'm neither condoning or condemning what he said. I'm explaining that for the 30 years that I've been around law enforcement they've always been referred to as quasi-military organizations. I'm not reading his mind and I hope you're not trying to read mine. He didn't make up the term. You may not like the term but it doesn't change or impact the way the job is done. It refers to the military-like structure of any police department.

    Keven Johnson: I don't know what we're disagreeing about. Whether you are offended by the term or just never heard of it, it makes no difference in the way they approach the job. Do you really believe that by Wolfinger making that statement he is more inclined to "kill" than to protect and serve. Do you think that the deputy in the street would do his job significantly more civilian-like if Green was the Sheriff. If you do then you're getting caught up on shallow words rather than looking at crux of the problem, which is a lack of leadership and accountability in the department.

    I was at the forum as well. The people liked what Green had to say on that subject. Wolfinger is not my guy because I think the department needs new blood from outside of this area. I thought Green did a pretty good job, but I also think he was playing to the crowd on that topic...smart move but it means NOTHING substantively. When I vote for a Sheriff, it won't be because he finessed a phrase about public servants vs. being para-military.

    If that's all you guys got out of that 90 minutes, you might as well vote for Johnson because I'm sure he'll be more touchy-feely.

    I want someone who can effectively enforce laws, create some esprit de corps in the rank and file, professionalize the department, and think outside the box.

    I think Green came out on top last night but not because he said cops are public servants...everybody already knows that! Or at least most people do.

    BTW Keven, there was no enthusiastic applause when Green said that. A few people applauded.

     
  • CClavin posted at 2:19 pm on Thu, Feb 23, 2012.

    CClavin Posts: 221

    Adam Johnson.......I am still laughing at him and he is even being considered. Clearly the two best choices are Wolfinger or Hutchinson. All others are pretenders

     
  • babydriver posted at 12:58 pm on Thu, Feb 23, 2012.

    babydriver Posts: 1393

    No more Ruby Ridges if you please.

    The Bonner Sheriff had no business backing the feds that way.

     
  • TomKatt posted at 12:55 pm on Thu, Feb 23, 2012.

    TomKatt Posts: 125

    IdahoMan, - Excellent questions, unfortunately the Citizenry was not allowed to ask questions....

     
  • IdahoMan posted at 12:46 pm on Thu, Feb 23, 2012.

    IdahoMan Posts: 100

    Hopefully the person who wins will be one who is a pro-rights/small-government Peace Officer. Not a PC/DHS-style, militarized Law Enforcement Officer.

    What are these five's stances on:

    * Taking down the Fatherland Security cameras on Highway 95.

    * "Constitutional-Carry" - Removal of the CCW permit system so carrying
    concealed is the same as Open-Carry. There should be no permits.

    * Protecting this area from federal shenanigans, such as ATF entrapment
    schemes, publicity-raids, and/or land-grabs. (Would the local sheriff and
    police-forces help prevent the enforcement of gun-registration/confiscation
    laws?) .

     
  • Keven Johnson posted at 12:44 pm on Thu, Feb 23, 2012.

    Keven Johnson Posts: 1327

    Rogue Cop, I have to disagree with you this time regarding Wolfinger's comment. A civilian police agency such as the sheriff's department, is not supposed to be a "para military" organization. Substituting "quasi" or "semi" for "para" does not change the meaning. The purpose of a military organization is to kill the enemy. The purpose of a civilian police department is to protect the public that it works for, and yes, sometime to arrest members of the public, ensuring our constitutional rights are not violated. There is already far too much militarization of police forces around the country. The distinction between the two needs to be made more clear, not further blurred. Perhaps this was just a poor choice of words by Mr. Wolfinger, but then again perhaps it gives us some insight as to how he truly views the public that the sheriff is elected to serve. I know that I was stunned when I heard him say that, and I was not alone, as evidenced by the spontaneous enthusiastic applause Mr. Green received when he challenged Wolfinger on that comment.

     
  • ancientemplar posted at 12:38 pm on Thu, Feb 23, 2012.

    ancientemplar Posts: 1205

    Rogue cop, Wolfinger didn't say that. He said "the sheriff's department is a para military organization."
    You telling us that you know what was in his mind?

     
  • TomKatt posted at 12:38 pm on Thu, Feb 23, 2012.

    TomKatt Posts: 125

    Ancient Templar, - Actually you are the neglecting to mention all the facts, Johnson did the shooting, protecting himself from being beaten to death by 8 vicious drunken meth-head scumballs, and a grand jury later found he had committed no crime, and to most citizens the only bad part was that he did not kill all 8 of these pukes, thereby making the planet a better place for the rest of us....

     
  • Righty-O posted at 12:28 pm on Thu, Feb 23, 2012.

    Righty-O Posts: 368

    That's $29,000. Boom, I could do that in the first day, getting rid of that," Hutcheson said.

    That is just a good way to make you look like an complete idiot, how about we get rid of bullet proof vest and the handguns too? Foot in mouth.

     
  • TomKatt posted at 12:23 pm on Thu, Feb 23, 2012.

    TomKatt Posts: 125

    I would not vote for any candidate who thinks more deputies are needed, the ones we have are apparently so bored they have nothing better to do than harass and attempt to intimidate law-abiding citizens,

    Making this situation even worse is that altho' many of the younger deputies behave in a professional manner, the fat donut-eating older ones are the most unprofessional, abusive, confrontational, incompetent, stupid, lying, sorry excuses for LEOs one could imagine, nothing but swaggering body-armored bullies with badges and guns,

    If this dept is this way as the result of being run by individuals with "law enforcement experience", maybe we need someone without "experience"....

     
  • Righty-O posted at 12:19 pm on Thu, Feb 23, 2012.

    Righty-O Posts: 368

    "Those jails are going to fill up with their own prisoners, and we'll have to house further and further away," Wolfinger said, noting that 77 percent of the county jail's inmates are felons."

    Maybe they are, but are they in there for drugs or violent crimes? Mr. Para-military Wolfinger.... This is just his way of saying I want more police out there, we need a bigger jail so I can arrest more people, and ask for more Tax dollars. You'll never get my vote. EVER. Some of these Knuckleheads just don't get it. We don't want more police, only smarter ones, who are paid well enough to stay and do a competent job. I personally feel this statement is out of touch with the people.

    "The former Texas deputy said the county must better classify its inmates, so fewer need to be housed elsewhere for a certain level of segregation."
    "Maybe we're just arresting too many people. That's something we need to consider," Green said."

    No kidding! I believe that Idaho voters would agree, not only would this save us money we have to pay these other jails ie. transportation cost, housing, ect. It clears up space in a over crowded jail.
    It leads me back to my point above, we hire police officers at a lower wage than MANY states, by the time they realize it they can go a little further away or just move for more money. It's putting us back in square one, untrained, uneducated, inexperienced, and young police force. It clogs up the legal system, we perpetuate the need to increase law enforcement because we are making arrest that other departments would not make on a regular basis and shipping off inmates to clear space for the low risk arrest we are making. Work Smarter not harder.

     
  • REDLINE posted at 12:16 pm on Thu, Feb 23, 2012.

    REDLINE Posts: 98

    Pitiful bunch! The only qualified candidate with experience leading a law enforcement agency is Keith Hutcheson!

    He sounds like he knows what to do!

     
  • Mark on the Park posted at 11:35 am on Thu, Feb 23, 2012.

    Mark on the Park Posts: 471

    "He would also try to cut costs, he said, like doing away with ballistic panels for sheriff's vehicles." 'That's $29,000. Boom, I could do that in the first day, getting rid of that,' Hutcheson said.

    What an interesting choice of words.

     
  • Rogue Cop posted at 10:33 am on Thu, Feb 23, 2012.

    Rogue Cop Posts: 2347

    Too much is being made of Wolfinger's statement about the Sheriff's Department being a para-military organization. It simply means that, like every law enforcement agency in the country, there is a rank structure, Sergeant, Lieutenant, Captain, etc.. Perhaps he could have said quasi-military, or semi-military. But it means the same thing.

    Trying to draw a distinction by saying that they are "public servants" is over-stating the obvious. They're paid with public funds. But they're armed, uniformed, are sworn to enforce laws, and there is a rank structure...thus, para-military.

     
  • ancientemplar posted at 10:26 am on Thu, Feb 23, 2012.

    ancientemplar Posts: 1205

    babydriver and IDAHOLAW, I was in the audience last night. Hopefully the reporter was also but you never can tell by what you read.

     
  • IDAHOLAWSTUDENT posted at 9:50 am on Thu, Feb 23, 2012.

    IDAHOLAWSTUDENT Posts: 3

    I thought Wolfinger was referring to the administrative structure of the sheriffs department being paramilitary-like. Guess I'll have to check that out...

     
  • babydriver posted at 9:19 am on Thu, Feb 23, 2012.

    babydriver Posts: 1393

    Wolfinger said the sheriff's department is a paramilitary organization???

    He just lost my vote right there!

    These guys are PUBLIC SERVANTS.

    Let's move the priorities away from law enforcement and back to public safety where it belongs.
    There are too many laws on the books already.

     
  • ancientemplar posted at 8:24 am on Thu, Feb 23, 2012.

    ancientemplar Posts: 1205

    Right mister d, just look at Washington's tax structure. Now there's a real joke. They deserve the government they vote for.

     
  • ancientemplar posted at 8:02 am on Thu, Feb 23, 2012.

    ancientemplar Posts: 1205

    This article neglects to mention that Johnson was involved in the shootout on Sherman with the individuals from Moses lake.

    Hutcheson is no longer the Tribal police chief and left last fall after a falling out with his employer
    .
    Foster's two California organizations were college campi.

    Wolfinger said the sheriff's department is a paramilitary organization and is part of the leadership currently at the sheriff's department..
    .
    Green has 34 years of experience, his street experience is Houston Texas, he's an attorney and thinks of the sheriff's deputies as civil servants.

     
  • Truthful posted at 7:56 am on Thu, Feb 23, 2012.

    Truthful Posts: 134

    The reporter in this story is providing conflicting information. A CDA Press Reporter Brian Walker covered a story on Keith Hutcheson on August 12, 2011 that says "Hutcheson, who ends his contract with the tribe on Oct. 4, said it was a "mutual" decision to part ways". This reporter makes it sound like he is still employed by the Tribe. Is he employed by the Tribe or not? Is he employed at all?

     
  • mister d posted at 7:44 am on Thu, Feb 23, 2012.

    mister d Posts: 1531

    If deputies want to leave for better pay, let them. Washington has better pay in most career positions, whether it is fire, education, law enforcement, or even miimum wage. Everyone has to same dilemma, stay in your community and work or go across the boarder and make a better living. They have the right to leave and there are many people looking for new law enforcement jobs.

     
  • Wiseguy posted at 7:41 am on Thu, Feb 23, 2012.

    Wiseguy Posts: 72

    Lawyer Green thinks we are arresting to many people. He apparently wants to make room in the jail . . . for all the federal law enforcement officials he wants to arrest. God help us if this guy gets elected.

     
  • DeNiles posted at 7:22 am on Thu, Feb 23, 2012.

    DeNiles Posts: 2450

    Here's a novel idea. Outlaw the LCDC and actually use ALL our tax revenues to pay for public services.

     
  • Flash Gordon posted at 7:00 am on Thu, Feb 23, 2012.

    Flash Gordon Posts: 1339

    77% of jailed inmates are felons and John Green says "maybe we're just arresting too many people"? That doesn't generate much public confidence in his qualifications or law enforcements abilities in my opinion. What an asinine comment from someone running for that position........

     
  • Thaddeus posted at 6:33 am on Thu, Feb 23, 2012.

    Thaddeus Posts: 232

    Five candidates huh?

    Of the five, you have one wingnut, one convicted felon and one meter reader........

    That leaves two viable candidates. Whew!!!

     
  • idahoguy posted at 5:46 am on Thu, Feb 23, 2012.

    idahoguy Posts: 932

    Look this is simple. Take the budget for the deputies and divide it by the regional competition is salaries amount. Wow the answer is... the number of deputies you can hire and keep around without wasting more money retraining the turn over. I suggest we start with smarter people in charge ;-0

     
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