Editor’s note: This is one in a series of question and answer articles about local candidates running for office. The Northern Virginia Daily asked candidates three questions. The unedited responses are below.
Four candidates - Mark Butler, Jason Poe, Jorge Amselle and Michael "Mickey" Licklider - are running for the seat vacated by the former Sheriff Daniel McEathron, who died earlier this year.
How do you believe the public perceives the Warren County Sheriff's Office after the suicide of former Sheriff Daniel McEathron, who was one of the defendants in the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority's $17.6 million lawsuit? Has that resulted in a lack of public trust of the office, and if so, how would you solve that issue?
Many questions remain unanswered regarding Daniel McEathron, causing the public to be mistrusting of the WCSO. One issue was the proposal to build a new regional training academy in Front Royal, which was spearheaded by the former sheriff. The Skyline Regional Criminal Justice Academy in Middletown (SRCJA) supports basic and career development courses for the WCSO and other agencies. Member agencies and the public were led to believe that land was acquired, and the new academy was going to be built – yet this was merely part of the scandal. County residents and WCSO deserve better than to be misled, and our deputies deserve the best in cutting edge training and facilities. As far back as December 2018, I conducted a comprehensive assessment of the WCSO Training Program. I reached out the then Sheriff McEathron and offered free consultation to improve their training program, budget, policies, and grant writing practices. The reply we received from Daniel McEathron was he “wouldn’t consider or make any changes in my agencies current and successful programs.” Moving forward, I plan on leading the charge to provide more advanced training for our deputies, while working closely with the academy in this respect. A survey conducted by my staff confirmed the deputies agreed with me on this, and my written Training Improvement Plan provides solutions with no cost to tax payers. Having managed my own small business, I have a real appreciation and knowledge of what needs to be done to gain the public trust and ensure the WCSO is trained properly.
I will instill trust and confidence through action and making strong administrative decisions to create greater personal accountability and performance from the WCSO. This starts with developing trusted partnerships that rebuilds the bridge between the WCSO and the entire community. I will create a Sheriff’s Advisory Council representing citizens, businesses, schools, seniors and youth, and my deputies to identify priorities. I have already achieved great success in forging these relationships, gaining support well in advance of the election, and will erase the stigma of the “good ole’ boy” reputation through professionalism.
What is the main operational aspect of the Sheriff's Office that you would change?
I have developed a written Strategic Plan that spans the first year in office, and defines six critical focus areas for improving the WCSO without increasing the budget: 1) effective and comprehensive community engagement, 2) policy improvements, 3) improved organizational efficiency, 4) career development and training, 5) recruitment and retention, and 6) bridging funding gaps. I will refine the plan through open discussions with elected officials, the public, and the employees at the WCSO who have a vested interest in shaping their workplace.
I will achieve the VLEPSC Accreditation that was lost by the current Sheriff and demand higher Professional Conduct through firmer Standards, stronger Policy, and self-regulation that produces transparent reporting accessible to the public. An example will be publishing a legitimate Annual Report inclusive of Professional Standards Review done monthly (e.g., complaints about personnel). I have identified policies that are lacking or missing from the General Orders. I intend to modernize our practices by applying science and engineering to solve problems, using crime analysis and the principles of Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety (DDACTS). An example of this would be looking at reoccurring crash data and community concerns and solving these through engineering, education and enforcement.
Our new Vision Statement will exemplify true Community Policing by being proactive in all areas - not reactive, while empowering deputies to solve problems at the lowest levels. This will be accomplished by engaging our schools, neighborhoods and businesses. I also want to create more programs for educating our youth, and engaging volunteers, retirees and seniors.
My Improvement Plan addresses the Training and Records Management shortfalls contributing to loss of accreditation, and will greatly improve agency morale and performance. I have identified millions of dollars in eligible grants to enhance these and other areas using a professional grant writer to achieve this. All of which were ignored by the prior Sheriff.
Other initiatives include augmenting our patrol capability by introducing the Reserve Deputy Program, and creating greater synergy between the WCSO and the Fire Departments to improve coordination during response to critical incidents such as search and rescue.
What is the biggest threat to public safety and how will you battle that problem?
The biggest threat for public safety in our area is clearly the Opioid/Heroine crisis because it poses a danger to the user, their families who suffer along with them, and society. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (March 2019), there has been a tenfold increase in deaths in Virginia attributed to synthetic opioids from 2012-2017, with Virginia having a death rate (14.8 deaths per 100,000) higher than the national average (14.2). There was a fivefold increase in the incidence of neonatal opioid withdrawal syndrome (NAS/NOWS) from 2004-2014, which is the equivalent of one baby born with NAS/NOWS every 15 minutes in the United States. Hospital costs for NAS/NOWS births soared from $91 million to $563 million.
The rising costs of treatment, increase in intravenous drug related diseases (AIDS/HIV/Hepatitis C), increase in property crimes and thefts by addicts to feed their habit, and straining first responder resources are secondary affects not to be ignored. This issue is huge!
I intend to attack the threat and mitigate this journey of despair using a three prong approach:
• Educating our youth and enhancing mentorship programs in and outside of our schools, with each deputy becoming invested in the community areas they work. We will continue cornerstone programs, and implement exciting new ones.
• Increased partnerships with other agencies to help reduce recidivism and repeat arrests through holistic treatment strategies. I will pursue joint agency training grants for first responders, developing programs in concert with probation, public health, and other outside agencies.
• Aggressive enforcement of the criminal statutes and working more closely with the Commonwealth Attorney. We will develop and enhance partnerships to effectively disrupt the transportation, manufacture and distribution of drugs within our county through working closely with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners in order to “cut off the head of the snake” and keep drugs out of our county. We will leverage the asset forfeiture laws as a deterrent, which will also supplement training, equipment and education costs without impacting the county operating budget.
Remember on November 5th… WE can truly begin to make a difference!