As the saying goes, there's a new sheriff in town-and that means times, they are a-changin for Stark County.
"When a new coach takes over he brings in his own coordinators and coaches to implement his vision. I want people to realize that there's going to be some changes that we have to do to get things in-line with our vision," Stark County Sheriff-elect Corey Lee, who will assume office on Jan. 1, 2019, said. "It's not going to be overnight. It's not going to be in the first six months. But there's going to be some changes in the department."
Addressing the most pressing needs at the sheriff's department, Lee said he will be relying heavily on input from the community and personnel in the department.
"Speaking with the residents of Stark County, the drug problem is really on the top of everyone's list at this moment," he said. "We certainly want to look into getting a sheriff department K-9 program going while also strengthening the narcotics task force. I foresee doing a hybrid detective position where a detective is spending half of his time addressing the drug issues. It's about alleviating wasted time and getting the biggest bang for the taxpayer's buck."
Lee's plans for the sheriff's K-9 department hinges largely on the approval of the county commissioners, but it is expected to bolster his department's ability to counter the growing drug concerns facing the county.
"I'm hoping that in 2019 we can get a K-9 on the road, and I'd like to have two on the road in 2020," Lee said. "I can't speak for what the commission is going to approve at this point, but I know that we can find alternatives when it comes to the funding as I've raised over $100,000 in the past for the Dickinson program. I don't foresee any issue with getting the money; the issue is the ongoing costs associated. So, we'll have to get the commission on board."
Speaking to future recruitment efforts, Lee said the department has long overlooked outside recruitment aimed at bringing in quality deputies from all over the region.
"I'm pretty excited about some of the people I'm talking to right now. New blood. There are a lot of people out there with experience that this sheriff's department hasn't seen," Lee said. "I used to be the department recruiter with the Dickinson Police Department, so the experience is there. The sheriff's department hasn't, to my knowledge, done much in reaching out to Alexandria or Devil's Lake actively recruiting. That's our intentions moving forward."
Lee expressed apprehension with how his predecessor addressed safety concerns raised by deputies, noting that he will be fiscally responsible while also maintaining deputy safety.
"You have to hear the voices of the deputies and the guys on the road. We don't have all the money in the world and can't have everything, but even so, you can strive for safety first," he said. "I don't know where this lag came from where guys uniforms were tattered, and (they) had to ask for three months for new uniforms. I don't understand that. The current administration would always shoot back that they gave $200,000 back to the county, well ok ... That's not responsible when there are basic safety issues not being resolved."
When asked how his administration would measure success, Lee said that it would be a matter of his department doing their jobs, the right way, while continuing to maintain an involvement within the community.
"Community involvement is a tough thing to measure, but it means the world to me ... being in the community. I want everyone knowing the deputies in my department and that they are approachable. These are keys to success in law enforcement."
Digging into specifics, Lee addressed the tangible markers for success his department would rely on to ensure they were being successful in policing the county.
"A successful K-9 program is at the top of my list. We want to see arrest numbers up in certain categories, including drug task force. We can do a lot better," Lee said. "The more we work together as a community, the more successful we can be."
Lee said his door would always be open to the community and that his ears would be open to their concerns or recommendations, urging the community to reach out to him via his social media with their comments.
"I will try my very best to listen, which is the key to being involved in a successful law enforcement agency." he said. "We're going back to being a healthy mix of law enforcement and peace officer again."