FRONT ROYAL – Three of the four candidates vying to become Warren County’s next sheriff presented their cases on why they are the best choice during a Thursday forum.

Participating candidates were former nonprofit industry executive Jorge Amselle, former Herndon Officer Mark Butler and Winchester Police Department Corporal Jason Poe. Michael “Mickey” Licklider, a Warren County Sheriff's Office security deputy at the county courthouse, was absent due to an illness.

Asked why he is the most qualified candidate, Amselle noted that he brings a “big-picture approach,” holding a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science and a master’s in law and public policy. He added that he has a career in public service, having served in the military.

He said the sheriff is primarily an administrative and community service job and “we need someone in that position with vision” who will work proactively to bring all elements of the community together to provide necessary services.

Poe said 18 1/2 of his 20-year career was at the Sheriff’s Office, where he “rose through the ranks” from communications to patrol deputy. He said he worked undercover narcotics, was a patrol sergeant for nine years and a special operations team commander.

He said he has a unique understanding of the county and office, adding that “I have a profound understanding for what the citizens here have come to expect and what they deserve from their Sheriff’s Office.”

He said: “My leadership experience speaks for itself.”

Butler said he has worked in the military and law enforcement for a long time and that he wants to “bring leadership and direction and empower our deputies to be the best community policing deputies and police office in the country.”

He said the community has “split” and needs to reunite, noting that if he is elected “we will never be embarrassed again by our Sheriff’s Office...we can’t have it.” He added that “I bring the experience, I bring the leadership.”

Asked about changes needed to the Sheriff’s Office’s policies and procedures, Poe said nothing stands out and that is something that should be determined during the first 100-190 days of a term. He added that he would be “trendsetting” in regards to openness and transparency.

Amselle said the office needs to increase diversity and better reflect the community’s makeup. He added that the county needs to establish a drug court, work with evicted citizens, and be proactive with community resources.

Butler said the office’s deputies are great but they need to be provided with the best training possible. He added that deputies need to be given the tools to empower community policing, which is not accomplished overnight but something to strive toward.

The candidates were also asked: what are the two biggest issues facing the community?

Poe said that beyond being a divided community due to the EDA situation - “which will work itself out” - the two biggest issues are drugs and mental health. He said he will attack drugs “head-on” and within 72 hours of being informed of a drug house, a search warrant will be executed or other investigative techniques will be used.

Regarding mental health, he said when someone is suffering they should be provided a liaison with Northwestern Community Services and helped quickly and efficiently.

Butler said the biggest issue is that the Sheriff’s Office has to regain the community’s trust.

He said drugs are the second biggest issue and that the zero-tolerance policy enforced since Nancy Regan said “just say no” has failed. He said the office needs to be proactive by getting the community involved through “auxiliary” and “reserve” deputies and not practice “political” or “statistical policing.” With that involvement, he said “we can solve the problem” and “run the drugs out of Warren County.” If not, he said, “we will definitely give it everything that we have.”

Amselle said that substance abuse and mental health are “clearly” the two biggest issues. He noted that half of the county arrests last year were drug- or alcohol-related but “we can’t arrest our way out of the drug problem.” He said drug abuse should be treated as a public health issue rather than a law enforcement issue. Instead of “only going after the supply," he said “we need to address the demand side” or “we will never get past this problem."

He added that his number one priority will be instituting “intensive outpatient drug treatment and substance abuse treatment in this county.”

The candidates also discussed the pros and cons of drug court; school resource officers, employee retention and more.

– Contact Josh Gully at jgully@nvdaily.com