Voters in Champaign County have a unique opportunity this election cycle: to actually have a choice of Sheriff candidates on their ballots. Retiring Sheriff Dan Walsh ran unopposed for 3 of his 4 terms, and was opposed by a write-in candidate for the other. Since this is the first real Sheriff's race in a number of years, it seemed like a good one to highlight. Essentially, the Sheriff oversees law enforcement at the county level, and also serves as warden of the county jail. You can see a detailed list of their duties here. I reached out to both candidates, Dustin Heuerman (D) and Allen Jones (R) to find out more about their background and experience as well as their plans for the office. Here are the responses from Jones; you can see the responses from Heuerman here.
Smile Politely: Can you briefly describe your background and professional experience?
Allen Jones: I am a 28-year veteran of the Champaign County Sheriff's Office and I've had the honor of serving as a corrections officer, patrol deputy, investigator, sergeant, lieutenant, Jail Administrator, and now as Champaign County Chief Deputy.
I hold a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Sciences from Illinois State University, am a graduate of the prestigious FBI National Academy (261st Session), the Northwestern University School of Police Staff and Command, and the National Institute of Corrections Jail Administrator School.
As Chief Deputy, the second in command to the Sheriff, I have experience with running all aspects of a $12-million-dollar office with roughly 150 employees who work under 5 different labor agreements. In addition to participating in the bargaining of those agreements, I have helped negotiate and manage multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts for professional services, such as the jail medical-mental health, food & commissary, and telephone-video visitation vendor contracts.
I have fourteen years of management experience in the sheriff's 0ffice of which the past 7 years have been spent specifically managing the jail as either Jail Administrator or Chief Deputy. The jail, which is a large component of a Sheriff's responsibility, involves complex matters that many outside of a sheriff's office, even former sheriff's patrol employees, often have little knowledge.
SP: Why is Sheriff an elected position? What do you see as the positives and negatives of this?
Jones: The Office of the Sheriff is established within Article VII, Section 4 (c) of the Illinois Constitution, which provides that each county shall elect a Sheriff and the term of service is 4 years. Champaign County has a history of having strong leadership from its elected Sheriff, who is therefore accountable to the people of Champaign County each election cycle.
SP: Sheriff is also a partisan election. Why is that and how do you your political leanings inform the way you approach the position?
Jones: The reason for the partisan election was explained previously. I am proud to have won the Republican Nomination in the March 2018 Primary, however, it is important to note that my personal politics have no place in the fair and unbiased enforcement of laws or running our jails.
Having said that, I believe in limited government and that government should only perform those functions that cannot be done by individuals and private organizations. I believe in fiscal responsibility and government must be accountable to taxpayers and act in a responsible and transparent manner. I believe in fairness under the law, regardless of economic or social status, that government should ensure fair and equal access to its institutions, such as the courts.
SP: The sheriff’s office and local police departments are two separate entities. Can you describe how the responsibilities differ, and also how those entities work in conjunction with one another?
Jones: The Sheriff is the primary law enforcement officer in the county. In addition to law enforcement responsibilities, as an "arm" of the judiciary, the Sheriff is responsible for the service of civil documents by order of the court such as subpoenas, summonses, and judgments, just to name a few. The Sheriff is also responsible for foreclosures, evictions, and replevins. The Sheriff, in person or by the representation of deputy, attends all courts in the county when in session. The Sheriff is the custodian of the courthouse and jail and is responsible for the care of all incarcerated people.
With the exception of law enforcement, local police departments differ greatly from a sheriff’s office. However, in Champaign County, all police agencies have a strong history of working together to address problems within our communities. For example, the sheriff’s office contributes personnel to the Street Crimes Task Force, a specialized unit created to combat the gun violence plaguing some of our communities. Additionally, through years of partnerships, local police departments are no longer required to process their own arrestees before transferring them to the custody of the Sheriff. The sheriff’s office does all the processing and through agreement, returning the necessary information to the arresting agency.
SP: Because you’ve spent many years working in the Sheriff’s office, you’ve had experience working in the office under the direction of the retiring Sheriff. How do you feel you are similar and how do you feel you are different from Sheriff Walsh? What sorts of changes you would like to implement?
Jones: During his sixteen years of service, Sheriff Dan Walsh has demonstrated a keen ability to lead the sheriff’s office into a new era of policing as well as usher in a season of cooperation between Champaign County law enforcement agencies this county has never seen. As his successor, I will strive daily to follow in his footsteps with open-minded leadership, effective and frequent collaboration & partnerships with the Judiciary, States Attorney and other justice involved agencies.
One area of difference between the two of us is my strong reliance on technology and my vision to increase efficiencies at all levels through the implementation of new technologies. As Chief Deputy, I have been responsible for implementing an online Policy Manual as well as equipping each deputy with body-worn cameras. More recently, I participated in a collaborative process with the Law Enforcement Union seeking to retain quality employees by implementing 12-hour shift schedules.
When elected Sheriff, it is my hope that our valuable employees will appreciate the stability in the agency during the change in leadership. While there won’t be any wholesale or large changes made, there will certainly be changes associated with my leadership and the alignment of command staff in new roles.
SP: I know mental health is an area that you are particularly focused on. Can you describe what the sheriff’s office is doing now in terms of ensuring offenders with mental health issues are dealt with properly, and what would you like to see done in the future?
Jones: I have been working diligently with many community partners to provide “safety nets” within our jail that will do everything possible to provide positive outcomes for those suffering from addictions, mental illness or both. Thanks to the work of our partners, Champaign County has been recognized by the National Associations of Counties “Stepping Up” Initiative as one of ten Innovator Counties. This recognition is a result of our policy of screening every person booked into jail for serious mental illness and for substance use disorders. People who screen positive for one or both disorders are referred to an on-site clinician who uses motivational interviewing techniques to engage individuals and determine if they meet the criteria for a full assessment, which is conducted by a licensed clinician in the jail or in the community. The Champaign County Sheriff and County Mental Health Board also established a process for enrolling Medicaid eligible individuals while in the jail, ensuring they will have access to proper care and a smooth transition after jail to community resources for mental health and addiction help.
There are many ways for Champaign County to improve upon this. First, we must maintain what has been put in place. Next, we must continue to increase resources available to our law enforcement, fire & EMS first responders for non-violent individuals suffering either of these afflictions. As a leader in the law enforcement community, I would like another option, beyond jail, hospital or nothing, when first responders are called to respond to these events. Lastly, our community lacks a detox center, as well as crisis stabilization services that are available to families and law enforcement alike.
SP: How do you plan to address racial bias?
Jones: There are no simple solutions to the racial disparity in the criminal justice system. Champaign County incarceration rates continue to decline and are easily the lowest among the largest counties in Central Illinois.
As Chief Deputy, I have worked with members of the Champaign County Board to meet requests made by the recent Racial Justice Task Force. While I do not agree that all of the findings are the responsibility of the County, there are suggestions that I was glad to pursue. The sheriff’s office is now publishing all jail booking and call for service data via the State of Illinois Data Portal. Additionally, the current FY2019 County Budget includes the creation of a full-time Data Analyst position in the Sheriff’s Office. Following the example of the City of Urbana, the Sheriff’s Office will soon make use of data to make informed decisions and initiatives in our justice system.
SP: How will you improve relations between law enforcement (or at least your arm of it) and the communities served by your department?
Jones: The sheriff’s office is a service organization and as part of that, our administrative staff is constantly interacting with Village Mayors, Township Road Commissioners and members of our rural communities. Effective law enforcement is dependent upon the relationships built in our communities. Sheriff’s office personnel will be charged with continued interaction and problem-solving support for all issues raised by the people we serve.
SP: Do you support the expansion of the jail? Why or why not?
Jones: Champaign County must abandon the two jail system. The building that contains the downtown jail and sheriff’s office is in poor repair. As Sheriff, I will work with the elected County Executive and County Board for the closure of the downtown building, the relocation of the sheriff’s office headquarters, and the remodeling of the satellite jail to accommodate the consolidation of all jail beds into one building.
The remodeling at the satellite jail should not be a bed for bed replacement of the downtown jail but requires the addition of specialized housing to accommodate those with all varieties of medical, mental and/or behavioral health needs. The addition of about 60 to 80 specialized beds will be all that is required to provide safe and appropriate housing for inmates. This will allow for the proper housing of inmates based on classification and medical/mental health needs. This will also allow for an increase in program space that will provide the ability to offer men and women's programs at the same time in a separate space.
The consolidation of facilities will allow for appropriate levels of safety and staffing to be achieved by having all inmates and officers within a single location. The relocation of the sheriff’s office headquarters will vacate the downtown building entirely, providing options for the County Executive and County Board to proceed with the next steps for that location.
SP: Do you have a plan for reducing incarcerations?
Jones: Champaign County incarcerations have continually decreased each year since 2007. This is in large part due to cooperative efforts between the sheriff’s office, Presiding Judge Difanis, and State’s Attorney Julia Rietz. I have been an active participant in this process for years and that cooperation will continue.
It appears 2018 incarcerations are likely to be lower than 2017. As noted earlier when discussing mental health issues, turning our focus to providing additional community resources, such as case management, to those non-violent individuals who continually cycle through our justice system, in particular, those who are arrested five or more times within a single year, will help law enforcement provide further tangible reductions of incarcerations.
SP: Do you think the sheriff’s office should cooperate with ICE?
Jones: The sheriff’s office should, and will, continue to cooperate with all federal law enforcement agencies in matters such as notification of arrest, providing availability for interviews and release date information if known. Sentence end dates are published on our website for the convenience of friends and families. The same cooperation is extended to all state and local law enforcement agencies, even those outside of Illinois.
The sheriff’s office does not house inmates from other jurisdictions, including federal detainees of any type, unless those individuals also have pending charges in Champaign County Court. CCSO will continue to honor any Federal or State Court Orders or Judicially issued Warrants of Arrest. In regard to ICE Detainers, Illinois law specifically forbids honoring ICE Detainer requests issued by agents.
You can learn about about Allen Jones on his campaign website. Photo provided by Allen Jones.