Primary voters likely will choose Rock County sheriff

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Frank Schultz
Monday, August 4, 2014

JANESVILLE--Two-term Sheriff Robert Spoden faces a challenge from one of his captains, Gary Groelle, in a Democratic primary Aug. 12.

The outcome will likely determine who will be sheriff when Spoden's term ends in January because no one else is running in the general election.

Groelle repeatedly has talked about his “collaborative management style,” which he said would help in relations with other local police agencies. He also says he would do more to combat the heroin plague and better manage the office's finances.

Spoden stresses his record, including changes such as releasing inmates on monitoring bracelets to keep the jail population down, eliminating the need for a multimillion-dollar jail expansion.

The candidates responded to questions via email. Some responses were edited for brevity.

Q: If elected, will you ask for an increase in the next budget?

Groelle: It would be my intention to have no increase. If we strategically plan a budget with measurable goals, we can achieve the elimination of services that are duplicated and assess areas where there is wasteful spending. …

Our ongoing yearly request for hundreds of thousands of dollars from the general fund to cover our overtime is something that we must be held more accountable for.

Spoden: We are in the process of working on our budget. I have always submitted conservative budgets around 1 to 2 percent. I would anticipate our budget would be similar as years past.

Q: Is the current number of deputies sufficient for the county's needs? If not, how many more are needed?

Groelle: We always have to balance our number one concern, the safety of our citizens and deputies, with our duty to be as efficient as possible in the delivery of services. We have sufficient staff, and how we effectively use the resources we have is an ongoing evaluative process.

Staffing decisions should be made in conjunction with consulting our command leaders and assessing the safety needs of our community. Our decisions should be evidence  based.

Spoden: The number of staff is sufficient to meet our mission. We need to continue to find ways to effectively and efficiently deliver services to our citizens. As budgets remain tight, we need to ensure we are looking for the best ways to serve our community.

Q: Do you foresee a need to expand the jail in the next 10 years?

Groelle: As we are able to implement more effective preventative and alternative programs to incarceration, the likelihood of any type of need for expansion decreases. 

There are fairly well studied approaches to alternatives to incarceration that produce a decrease in recidivism. If we adhere to their recommended structure, we can see similar results. It's important that we continually evaluate the outcomes we are getting and adjust our goals with our programming accordingly.

How we choose as a county to address the high incidence we see of individuals with an untreated mental health condition and how we implement some sort of a wrap-around approach to the heroin and addiction problems will have an impact on our jail population, arrest rates and the safety of our residents in the community.

It's important we review our long-term capital improvement plans throughout the county and follow the recommendations developed by our staff and the county board.

Spoden: If the sheriff's office continues the alternative programs we started in the last eight years, we should be able to monitor and respond to inmate population trends. If we move away, then we will again be looking at a new jail.

Inmate population is based on alternative programming. We need to continue to look at progressive programs that lower our jail population for nonviolent offenders. Jail should be for those who scare us.

Q: Do you believe releasing inmates on electronic bracelets diminishes the effectiveness of the punishment?

Groelle: Electronic monitoring has three components recommended as part of this approach. First is reintegration into the community, treatment, punishment and deterrence.  Punishment is achieved through closer supervision and decreased freedom while being monitored. …

Decreasing recidivism and increasing the safety of our community must be the ultimate goal any program would be measured against. As a county overall, we need to be looking at our outcomes to see if it is as effective as it can be.

Spoden: I do not feel putting inmates on the bracelets reduces the need to ensure justice.

The role of the justice system is not solely punishment but also ensuring that the person does not commit another crime.

Using the bracelet offers far more control than the simple (work-release) program. We can monitor their movements. We can monitor if they consume alcohol and drugs. It is also a great deal more cost effective. We spend around $9 per day for a bracelet and $62 per day to house them, not including medical cost.

Q: If you win, do you plan to run again in 2018?

Groelle: I am focused on the current race. The decision to have another term would be made with input from my family.

Spoden: I will discuss my future at a much later date. Campaigns are hard on the family, and my intention is to endure this one and look at my future at a later date.

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