Cecil County Sheriff Election: ‘Team’ Focus in GOP Primary– Scott Adams Promotes ‘Partnerships’ to Solve Drug Crisis
A Cecil Times Special Report
In the 2014 elections for Cecil County Sheriffâalways one of the most hotly contested races in local politicsâthere is a new watchword among the leading candidates in the June Republican primary: âteam.â While past election campaigns have focused on the individual candidate for Sheriff, this year the focus is on the âteamâ of senior officials who would run the law enforcement agency if a particular candidate were elected.
In lengthy interviews with Cecil Times, candidates Scott Adams and Chris Sutton outlined their own and team membersâ credentials, policing philosophies, and plans for Cecil Countyâs prime law enforcement agency. In two articles, their views will be exploredâwith Adams going first after a coin toss determined the order of interview publication.
âTEAM ADAMSââCampaign Motto: âLeadership, Community, Safetyâ
SCOTT ADAMS, Sheriff: B.S. degrees in Criminal Justice and Psychology, Towson University; Sergeant and supervisor of Sheriffâs School Resources unit; former K9 officer, road patrol, investigator, instructor; named 2009 Maryland State Deputy of the Year by Maryland Sheriffâs Association. More than 20 years with Cecil County Sheriffâs department. Volunteer youth sports coach and founder of youth sports league.
GERRY WIDDOES, Chief Deputy: B.S. in Criminal Justice, Wilmington University; Law degree, University of Maryland; former supervisor of Drug Task Force where he was named âDrug Investigator of the Decade;â instructor at State Police Academy. Recently retired after 25 years service with Cecil County Sheriffâs department. Singerly Fire Company longtime volunteer and officer.
GEORGE F. STANKO, Major for Law Enforcement: Associates degree in Law Enforcement/Corrections, Cecil College; Associates degree in Fire Sciences Technology, Cecil College; graduate of New Jersey State Police Command and Leadership Academy. Newark (DE) Police Department, Lieutenant in charge of Criminal Investigations Division, former commander of SWAT team; previously served more than five years with Cecil County Sheriffâs department as a deputy. Life member of Charlestown volunteer fire company.
Scott Adams says he is running for Cecil County Sheriff because âI feel it is a critical time now for our county and the departmentâŚWe need to move forward in a progressive direction.â He feels he has assembled a top-flight team to carry out that mission, and âteamwork is important in anything you do.â But it is crucial in law enforcement leadership to be backed by people âwho know how to get the job doneâ and will work together in a âcollaborative effort,â he added.
Adams also takes that approach to what he sees as the top problem in Cecil County: illegal drugs and addiction. He speaks of developing âpartnershipsâ with state and local agencies, including the public schools, health department, social services agencies, churches and community groups to tackle the drug problem with a multi-pronged approach.
The soft-spoken Adams gets animated and passionate on the subject of âpartnershipsâ to address the drug crisis: âI could go on all day about this,â he said with a smile.
âIâm a big prevention person,â Adams said, adding that âLaw enforcement alone doesnât win the battleâ against drugs. During his work supervising the Sheriffâs agencyâs cops-in-schools program, Adams has worked collaboratively with school officials to develop âsafe schoolsâ policies and standards, including procedures that were used in a recent school bomb threat that required rapid evacuation and re-location of students and teachers. He wants to expand those relationships into a broader drug education and prevention presence in the schools.
Adams, who has also been an instructor in the police DARE program to educate youth about the dangers of drugs and avoiding risky behaviors, said he would also develop initiatives to draw community organizations into the fight against drugs. He and Widdoes spoke at past drug awareness forums and were disappointed with low turnouts, convincing him that more direct outreach is needed. He said he has talked with âfaith-basedâ groups and even âmobile ministriesâ about taking the anti-drug message directly into local communities in co-ordination with the Sheriffâs department.
As a former K-9 unit officer, Adams welcomed the recent addition of two police dogsâcurrently in training with their handlersâto the force. He said the dogs will be an important asset in patrolling schools to keep them drug-free.
The county recently received a federal High Impact Drug Trafficking Area designation, which will bring in federal aid and resources. And a joint Drug Task Force including county deputies, State Police and Elkton town police members is still firmly in place, despite State Police backing out of some regional task forces in other areas of the Eastern Shore. But Adams wants to re-deploy more county deputies to the Task Force.
In his campaign platform, Adams declares, âDrugs are the root of all evilâ and destroy communities and families, âdeter businessâ from locating in the area and âtax every resource in the county.â And the drug problem, he said, is âEconomics 101âsupply and demandâwe need to attack the supply and curb the demand.â
When it comes to on-the-street battles against drug crimes, âI want to create some havoc,â Adams said. He would revitalize the Street Level Crime unit of the Sheriffâs department which has been nearly extinct in recent years as the agency lacked the staffing to respond to citizenâs calls for service and had to re-deploy deputies to road patrols.
In the current county budget, five new deputies were authorized, although their hiring was delayed by a last-minute budget cut imposed by the Cecil County Council. (Previously, the County Commissioners had refused to hire any additional deputies for over four years.) The new Fiscal 2015 budget proposed by County Executive Tari Moore includes one additional deputyâa cut from the two new deputies requested by retiring Sheriff Barry Janney.
With a currently authorized force of 89 deputies, Adams said the department is still understaffed by national law enforcement standards, which indicate the county force should have at least 20 additional deputies.(Stanko noted that the Newark DE police department, with a much smaller patrol area and population, has a force of 68 officers.)
But with the budget and political realities of Cecil County government, Adams acknowledges that getting the financial support for such a staff boost is unlikely so more creative approaches will be needed to make the most of available resources.
Adams wants to work on upgrading professional standards and training opportunities for deputies so the department receives national accreditation, which can bring in additional grants and resources to help support the agency. And re-vamping staffing schedules could improve deputy morale and provide greater efficiency in putting deputies on the streets, he added.
The current eight-hour schedules and rotating shifts have been unpopular with deputies and Adams and his team are committed to developing a new system, with either 10-hour or 12-hour shifts. Adams said he is researching other police agenciesâ policies and weighing the pros and cons of either scheduling option to ensure that public safety is the top priority.
Widdoes said that start times could be staggered so that there was some overlap in shifts, with âhot callsâ going to the new shift instead of a fatigued soon-to-be-off-duty team. That would provide better and more efficient service to the public, he added, while also helping reduce overtime pay costs for taxpayers.
The Sheriffâs department has one of the more complex budgets of any county agency, with law enforcement, the detention center and a work-release program all under the departmentâs umbrella but with separate fiscal accounting requirements. The Sheriffâs department has a business manager to deal with many fiscal tracking issues while Widdoes has experience in fiscal oversight as a former trustee of the Cecil County Public Pension Plan, overseeing $28 million in investment assets.
(Widdoes, who currently receives pension payments from the county, said he would put his pension on âfreezeâ status so as not to collect payments while working again for the Sheriffâs agency and has consulted with the countyâs human resources director about implementing that process if Adams is elected.)
Adams said that if elected, he planned to retain the newly-named director of the countyâs Detention Center, Major Randy Rudy. Rudy, a former state trooper with the rank of Captain and Aberdeen town police chief, recently testified in depth before the Cecil County Council about the centerâs new programs for inmates including drug and alcohol counseling and outreach with faith-based counseling groups. However, he pointed out that most of the inmates are being held pre-trial and cannot be compelled to participate.
In his Facebook social media postings, Adams has emphasized that he is ânot a politicianâ and that unlike some other un-named candidates, he has been fully focused on law enforcement, not political functions: âLeadership is more than just campaigning; itâs about getting the job done.â He also notes that he is a âlifelong Republican.â
Clearly, the reference is to his chief rival in the Republican primary, Chris Sutton, who ran for Sheriff as a Democrat in the past two elections but lost to Republican Barry Janney in the general election. Sutton has changed his party affiliation to Republican for the 2014 elections, although he has stated that at the time he shifted his party allegiance he had not yet formally decided to run again. (However, he had kept his campaign finance committee alive and held fundraisers to benefit that committee.)
Adams is a political newcomer in his first campaign but he has mustered impressive financial support from a variety of small donors, especially from residents and businesses in the Rising Sun area. He attributed his local support to people knowing him from his involvement in coaching youth sports teams and working with community groups in the area.
State elections board records show that since he filed his candidacy last year, he has raised $31,067 in contributions and fundraiser ticket sales. The report, filed in January, also showed that he spent $25,552, primarily on yard signs, billboards, printing expenses and related campaign costs. As a first-time candidate for Sheriff, Adams has had to work on getting his name out before the public but his fundraising represents a substantial amount for a new candidate. He plans to hold a golf fundraiser soon to bolster his campaign fundâwhich had a cash balance of $5,544 in Januaryâbefore the upcoming late June primary election.
The crowded GOP primary fieldâwith five candidatesââmakes things unpredictable,â Adams said. The primary is also months earlier this year than in the past, when the primary elections were usually held in September, so there is less time to get a candidateâs message out to voters. (In the Democratic primary, there are four candidates seeking that partyâs nomination for Sheriff.)
Adams said that while he is not a âpoliticianâ he respects the political process and would work with the county government and other elected officials in a constructive way to further the Sheriffâs Departmentâs work. The Sheriffâs Department âneeds to sell itself better,â both to county elected officials and the public, than it has in the past, he said.
âEverybody agrees that drugs are the countyâs number one problem,â Adams said. The solution âwonât come overnightâ and it will require âpartnershipsâ to tackle the fight against drugs and addiction on multiple fronts.
While others may âtalk aboutâ the problem, Adams said, âI think Iâm the person who knows how to get the job done and take our department into the future.â
Adamsâ campaign website is here: http://www.scottadamsforsheriff.com/