Editor’s note: The Kenosha News sent a set of questions to county sheriff candidates — Republican David Beth and Democrat David Zoerner. Here are their answers for some of the questions, and more will be published Monday.
The heroin-opioid crisis has been on ongoing problem in Kenosha County. What are the best ways for the sheriff’s department to address the issue?
BETH (R): “The heroin crisis is not an issue we can arrest and incarcerate our way out of. We need to continue the aggressive pursuit of those that traffic drugs in our community with our joint KDOG (drug) unit working in collaboration with the Kenosha and Twin Lakes Police Departments. Our patrol units currently carry Narcan to save those who have overdosed. This may give those who have made the poor choice in using opioids a second chance at changing their lives.
“We currently work with the district attorney and county executive in a Vivitrol program to reduce dependency of those already addicted. We are currently working on a grant to expand Vivitrol into our jail for inmates addicted prior to their release back into our community. I have been in contact with state and federal officials asking for them to support reforms in the use and prescribing of opioid-based medications. This would also include educating people of all ages in the addictive nature of these drugs and the negative effects.”
ZOERNER (D): “The best way for the Sheriff’s Department to address the opioid and heroin epidemic is a collaborative effort including social, medical and law enforcement components. There are several agencies locally working toward the same goal, to protect and save lives. Working in concert with these groups, we can collect all the data, extrapolate what is successful and make sure everyone is on the same page. Maximize our successes and not duplicate services. After all, most are in need of the same grant dollars.
“The crisis of addiction is a problem of demand. The only way to stop demand is through appropriate addiction abatement programming. Working closely with The Hope Council, Crisis Intervention and rescue services we must identify those at risk and pursue their recovery. This is not punitive, but a social necessity. This is a crisis and is going to take everyone working together to succeed. There is a medical component to this fight. The county is currently utilizing Medically Assisted Treatment, or the Vivitol program. This medication aids an addicts’ rehabilitation by curbing their cravings for the drug. As addicts seek synthetic opioids that are 100 and 1000 times stronger and deadlier than heroin, such as Fentanyl and Carfentanyl, it will be more and more difficult to save lives.
“As the sheriff, these predators will be pursued by a restructured clandestine drug unit and a drug interdiction trained front line staff. We will work in collaboration with every law enforcement agency in the region to make more drug distribution arrests, keeping families safer. “
The jailers are a large part of the sheriff’s department staff and budget, and keeping that department staffed, especially at a time of low unemployment, seems to be a challenge. What can the department do to attract and retain highly qualified staff at the jail?
ZOERNER (D): “To determine appropriate measures to attract and retain highly qualified staff at the Kenosha County Jail, I would start by speaking to our
excellent detentions staff, and I have. Immediately bring them back into the forefront of the department to acknowledge them for the vital public safety entity that they are and give them the opportunity to express what they want to see in the recruitment process. They are on the front line and know firsthand what it takes so survive and thrive in their profession. The sheriff’s office needs to do a much better job of recruiting.
“When reviewing trade literature, it is common for correctional facilities to begin recruiting high school students for a career in corrections. We need to consider that, send staff members to local colleges as ambassadors for the department and begin improving the image of our department as a progressive and highly professional agency. Promote to the new generation the stability of a career in county government and constantly promote our professional department.
“Due to the personnel shortage, forced overtime assignments and the elimination of health care benefits to retirees, morale among the jail staff is at an all-time low. And recently, the current administration announced mandated 12-hour shifts starting in 2019. I am NOT an advocate of spending taxpayer’s money freely, however, the cost of recruiting and training new personnel is debilitating. With being forced into 12-hour shifts, the department will lose even more employees to resignation. We may not be able to improve their compensation package dramatically, but we can treat our staff as professionals and show appreciation for their efforts, rather than force rash, wide sweeping changes that have not been vetted or discussed with the county board, cannot be tested or proven, just before an election.”
BETH (R): “The jail is currently at or near fully staffed. We came up with a part-time correctional officer program that allows us hire and train personnel in advance of the loss of current full-time staff. This program has reduced overtime for all of our corrections staff and reduced forced overtime as well. It also gives new hires a chance at full-time employment as openings arise or allows them to work part-time as a secondary job as many are currently students working through college and retired staff filling in as needed to supplement retirement. This program has significantly helped reduce overtime and helped with employee retention.
“We are implementing a new work schedule utilizing 12-hour work shifts. This will allow our department to cover the manpower needs of the jail and provide our employees a schedule that affords them every other weekend off. The county is also exploring a feasibility study that will keep our pay and benefits competitive with the public and private sector.”