Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Carter targets budget in run for sheriff

I was able to cover the Buchanan County Sheriff's election. Some would say it was the most heated and controversial race for the county. Prior to the primary I sat down with each of the four candidates to do a profile.

St. Joseph News-Press

Campaigning with young enthusiasm, management experience and a strict plan of attack, Brian Carter, a Republican candidate for Buchanan County sheriff, is preparing for the Aug. 5 primary election.
The Missouri Western State University criminal justice department graduate hails from Bethany, Mo., and has worked for Buchanan County since early 2000. Mr. Carter, an evening shift supervisor in corrections for the Buchanan County Sheriff’s Department, said he’s had intentions of running for sheriff ever since he started in law enforcement.
Mr. Carter will face off against fellow Republican candidate Galen Higdon during the primary.
“I believe it’s time for some changes ... The department needs to be run more effectively and efficiently and held to a different level of accountability,” Mr. Carter said.
Reducing the current budget is one of Mr. Carter’s priorities. His plan includes reducing the budget by a minimum of $300,000 by restructuring current staffing and replacing the current fleet of sport-utility vehicles the department currently uses.
“They truly are a showroom model with a larger battery,” Mr. Carter said.
While he plans to replace the Dodge Durangos with police-packaged cars, possibly purchased from the Missouri State Highway Patrol, he does plan to keep a few mid-sized four-wheel-drive vehicles that are more cost-efficient.
Mr. Carter also has concerns surrounding the warrants division.
“There is a lingering burden of unserved warrants that grows larger by the day in Buchanan County,” Mr. Carter said. “It costs the county nothing more than a phone call or a letter to get that person in and paying their fines.”
Increasing patrol and implementing new school programs are also on Mr. Carter’s “to-do list.” Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE, along with safe schools planning and gang tracking are ways he aims to improve on current programs. Mr. Carter says DARE is in about 75 percent of schools nationwide, but not in rural county schools.
A co-worker and member of Mr. Carter’s campaign staff, Rick Dierenfeldt, said Mr. Carter can inflict the most change in the department.
“I have witnessed his dedication and determination in a law enforcement setting and with family and friends,” Mr. Dierenfeldt said. “He has the innate leadership ability to get people excited about their jobs.”
Mr. Carter believes his experience as a patrol supervisor, a Buchanan County emergency management director, a director for the Region H Homeland Security Division and as a community volunteer and Sunday school teacher will give him the extra edge over his competition.
“I am young and energetic,” Mr. Carter said. “There is no self-seeking purpose behind me campaigning, it’s simply a means to give back to the community and to let the community have a deciding factor in the direction the department should go.”

Deputy says he belives disciplinary action was politically motivated

A little controversy heated up the race for sheriff.

St. Joseph News-Press

A Buchanan County Republican candidate for sheriff has decided to speak out about disciplinary action taken against him related to a vehicle pursuit.
Brian Carter, a road patrol supervisor at the time of the incident, pursued a man suspected of domestic violence on March 19. Mr. Carter’s police vehicle and a civilian vehicle were damaged in the chase.
The News-Press previously reported that disciplinary action had been recommended by a review board against Mr. Carter following an internal investigation. At that time, both Mr. Carter and Sheriff Mike Strong declined to elaborate on the circumstances due to personnel issues. The News-Press formally requested documents related to the pursuit but was denied access.
Mr. Carter has since chosen to comment on various aspects of the issue.
“There have been several occurrences involving personnel changes within the department that would certainly lead one to believe that this has the potential of being politically motivated,” Mr. Carter said.
Three months after the incident, Mr. Carter was transferred from the patrol division to the corrections department.
Mr. Carter questions the time and validity of the disciplinary actions. The primary election is Aug. 5. Mr. Strong is running for re-election as a Democrat against Ron Fisher, a deputy within the department. Mr. Carter is running as a Republican against Galen Higdon, who is also a deputy.
Rick Dierenfeldt, also involved in the pursuit, was recently transferred from corporal of the patrol division to deputy in the court marshal’s department — a move he was told was because of “a recent inability to perform the duties of the patrol division and for the good of the department.”
“I wasn’t necessarily surprised at the course of events that took place,” Mr. Dierenfeldt said. “However, I will continue to serve in my current position to the best of my ability and with a positive attitude.”
Mr. Carter filed an appeal in response to the disciplinary action, which did not go in his favor.
“The attorney advised through research on the issue that he discovered Buchanan County is one of the only counties in the state of Missouri that does not have an appeals process, which gives any elected Buchanan County official, including the sheriff, absolute power and authority in personnel matters — with or without cause,” Mr. Carter said.
Mr. Strong denied any further comment on the matter, citing personnel issues. He does, however, expect sentencing for Joshua P. Vantiger, 24, of St. Joseph, who was charged in the pursuit, by the first part of August.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Fisher's campaign 34 years in the making

I was able to cover the Buchanan County Sheriff's election. Some would say it was the most heated and controversial race for the county. Prior to the primary I sat down with each of the four candidates to do a profile.

St. Joseph News-Press

Ron Fisher has known for most of his 34-year career that he would some day campaign to be Buchanan County sheriff.
The St. Joseph native knew when he was a 21-year-old St. Joseph Police Department officer that he wanted to lead the county’s law enforcement officers. But he never anticipated such a tough race.
“I filed with two minutes to go because I knew how hard an incumbent is to beat,” Mr. Fisher said.
As a Democrat, Mr. Fisher will face current Sheriff Mike Strong in the primary set for Aug. 5.
“I’m 55 years old, and when you turn 60, a lot of times they don’t want you in law enforcement anymore,” Mr. Fisher said, citing some examples of close friends being asked to retire.
Mr. Fisher currently is a marshal and deputy sheriff at the Buchanan County Courthouse, where he has worked for almost nine years. Before that, he was a patrolman, detective and sergeant for the Police Department.
Mr. Fisher plans on putting the protection of citizens and the safety of officers first in his campaign, followed by budget concerns.
“I want to make sure they get the best bang for their buck when it comes to taxation,” Mr. Fisher said.
He also hopes to implement a booking fee for individuals who are arrested, which is a similar set up to what he said Joplin, Mo., and Springfield, Mo., currently use. The fee would be in the ballpark of $10 for each time a person is taken into custody.
As for the fleet of sport utility vehicles the department is currently driving, Mr. Fisher hopes to slowly replace them.
“We’re stuck with them now,” Mr. Fisher said. “We’ll have to drive them a while until we can swap them out with an Impala or other police-packaged car.”
Mr. Fisher hopes his knowledge of the city and many of its citizens can give him the extra edge needed to become the next sheriff.
“I’m a people person and I’ll listen,” Mr. Fisher said. “Public safety isn’t always fun and games, but you can still treat people with respect and kindness.”

New system will help locate 911 cell phone callers

This was my first POD story.

St. Joseph News-Press

Her job involves everything from livestock on the loose, wrecks, drunken falls and shots fired. No matter what the event, Joan Clayton relies on her communications system to help her locate exactly where a 911 phone call is coming from.
Ms. Clayton has worked in St. Joseph and Buchanan County’s 911 communications center for 23 years and soon, for the first time, she will be able to determine the location of an individual placing a call from a cell phone.
On June 30, the St. Joseph City Council approved the purchase of the roughly $282,000 worth of equipment needed to make the switch. The current system lacks the ability to identify the whereabouts of callers on a cell phone.
“We’re all really excited,” said Ms. Clayton. “If people in a stressful situation call and can only vaguely tell us where they are this system will help us find them faster.”
Tabby McClanahan, public safety network administrator, says law enforcement officials have been trying to get their current system replaced for almost five years, but other priorities such as a new two-way radio system came first. Funding for the new system will come from Capital Improvements Program, or CIP, funds.
“We will be the first department in the region to have this system,” Ms. McClanahan said.
Johnson County, Kan., has purchased the system but hasn’t installed it yet, said Ms. McClanahan.
The system, which the department hopes to have up and running by August, allows for two additional operators over the current system.
“Right now we have to manually gather call counts but this new system will automatically do that,” Ms. McClanahan said. “Those numbers provide good workload indicators, which tell us the number of personnel needed during peak call hours.”
During the month of June, Ms. Clayton and the operators at the 911 communications center received 4,588 emergency calls and 16,386 calls on their non-emergency lines.
“Our job is helping people, and this system is going to make it much easier and faster for us to help them,” Ms. Clayton said.

Higdon runs for sheriff on stewarship, values platfrom

I was able to cover the Buchanan County Sheriff's election. Some would say it was the most heated and controversial race for the county. Prior to the primary I sat down with each of the four candidates to do a profile.

St. Joseph News-Press

With more than 29 years of experience, strong moral values and some of the biggest signs in town, Republican candidate for Buchanan County sheriff Galen Higdon hopes he has what it takes.
The St. Joseph native knew at a young age that law enforcement was in his future. His father was a St. Joseph Police Department officer.
After 29 years patrolling the county roads Mr. Higdon, a current sergeant with the patrol division, noticed a change in the direction the department was heading and thought he could do a better job. Mr. Higdon made his decision to run for office two weeks before filing for the position began.
He said his wife of 34 years and his three daughters said his decision to run for sheriff was long overdue.
“I enjoy what I’m doing and the enforcement part is something I really enjoy doing,” Mr. Higdon said. “Now I think it’s time I set my values on to some of the younger guys and get them to enjoy what they do.”
As a showing of his values Mr. Higdon is asking fellow deputies not to assist in his campaign process.
“It’s so I don’t feel like I owe them anything,” Mr. Higdon said. “It’s happened before and higher positions were used as a repayment.”
Some of the key areas Mr. Higdon hopes to improve on if elected include reducing budget spending, doing away with the current vehicle fleet and boosting morale within the department.
“I want to be a better steward with peoples’ tax money and spend it a little wiser,” said Mr. Higdon. “Eliminating the fleet of Durangos will cut fuel costs and maintenance spending.”
Mr. Higdon says he sees no use for the department’s large fleet of the four-wheel-drive vehicles.
“Those cars are not even police vehicles,” Mr. Higdon said. “If you look at the warning on their sun visor it says don’t travel at excessive speeds or make sharp maneuvers — we’re cops.”
Mr. Higdon plans to trade off a majority of the “gas guzzling” fleet and buy quality used, police packaged cars. He said in the time he has spent driving a Durango around the county he has never had a need for its four wheel drive or extra ground clearance features.
“The county road crews are fantastic today as well as MoDOT and St. Joseph maintenance. If a snowstorm hits, it’s not long before those roads are clear,” Mr. Higdon said.
Mr. Higdon will face off against fellow Republican sheriff candidate Brian Carter in the Aug. 5 primary.
The two men give Republican voters something to be proud of, said Ken Beck, a board member with the Northwest Missouri Republican Club.
“Higdon brings a quality to the sheriff’s office that needs to be looked at,” Mr. Beck said in reference to the years of experience Mr. Higdon has. “I think the Republican Party should be very proud of what the two men bring to the party.”
Mr. Higdon is a former vice president of the Missouri Sheriff’s Deputy Association and feels that gives him the extra experience necessary as a sheriff for Buchanan County.
“As the former vice president, I know how to manage money and I want to bring back moral values to the department and safeguard the people of Buchanan County,” Mr. Higdon said

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a series of profiles of the four candidates for Buchanan County sheriff.

2-Vehicle wreck causes 2nd accident when righted SUV rolls down hill

This was from one of my funniest days on the job. I was an eye-witness.

St. Joseph News-Press

What started as a two-vehicle accident Saturday afternoon at the intersection of North Third Street and East Highland Avenue ended up as two separate accidents.
While officers attempted to clear the scene of a previous accident involving a Ford Explorer that had rolled over, an employee of Collision Repair Specialists used a tow truck to tip the vehicle back onto its tires. Once the Explorer landed, it then rolled backward down a hill and struck two parked vehicles and a street sign in front of 305 E. Highland.
The owners of the parked vehicles, Michael and Kristen Hart, arrived shortly after the accidents occurred.
“I was kind of in shock,” Ms. Hart said.
She was enjoying a birthday supper when her son, who was at home and heard the accidents happen, called to deliver the news.
St. Joseph Police Officer Matt Biggs, who was nearly struck by the out-of-control Explorer, was eventually able to reach into the driver’s side window of the Explorer once it began to slow down and stop the vehicle before it could do more damage.
The initial accident occurred when Laura L. Gerdes, 57, of Elwood, Kan., was travelling east on Highland and her Explorer was struck by a northbound Ford Windstar, driven by Devina Barnett, 23, of St. Joseph. The force from the impact caused the Explorer to spin and roll, coming to rest on the driver’s side facing west, said Police Officer Wyatt Laipple.
Ms. Gerdes was extricated from the Explorer and taken to Heartland Regional Medical Center, where a spokeswoman said she was in fair condition late Saturday.
Ms. Barnett was cited with failure to stop or yield to oncoming traffic.