Rock County voters in Tuesday’s Democratic primary will choose between two men with lengthy law enforcement careers for the job of Rock County sheriff.
They are Troy Knudson, a commander at the sheriff’s office, and Gary Groelle, who retired recently as a sheriff’s office captain.
The winner will face a sheriff’s office captain, Jude Maurer, who is running as a Republican, in the Nov. 6 election.
Sheriff Robert Spoden, a Democrat, has held the job for almost 12 years. He is retiring.
The Democratic candidates responded by email to these questions posed by The Gazette.
Q: If you had to cut $100,000 from the sheriff’s office’s $22 million budget, what would you cut?
Groelle: Eliminate a new squad car for the sheriff each year, saving an estimated $45,000.
Eliminate six other take-home vehicles for a total savings estimated at $24,000 to $30,000.
Eliminate the Lexipol policy program for an estimated savings of $6,000 to $7,000. Lexipol helps develop and write department policies. By accrediting the sheriff’s office through the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Accreditation Group, Lexipol would be of limited use.
Share more resources and training with other law enforcement agencies on a more frequent and permanent basis, especially in high-risk and critical-incident situations.
Seek ideas from local criminal justice partners and community members and groups on ways to more efficiently serve the community.
“Working together and sharing ideas is always the key. I will also regularly seek the input from our staff for any possible cost-savings measures.”
Knudson: “Costs could be saved through consolidation of services with other law enforcement agencies in our county. Cooperative agreements to combine resources, pool specially trained personnel and share purchase of high-cost equipment and specialty vehicles could result in significant savings. These ideas should be pursued; however, these changes would not be immediately realized.
“To cut $100,000 in the short term, we would have to leave a personnel position open, such as the captain position that was recently vacated. As a result, other staff would have to take on the eliminated position’s duties, and important projects may need to be placed on hold. However, this decision could result in the type of savings needed to meet a large budgetary reduction.”
Q: Is racial and ethnic diversity important to you when recruiting and hiring deputies and correctional officers?
Groelle: “This is very important to me. I will be very aggressive and progressive in the recruiting and hiring of individuals with racial and ethnic diversity. As the leader of the sheriff’s office, I will ensure our staff reflects the racial and ethnic diversity that we have in Rock County.
“... I have already met with many individuals within underrepresented populations and know they are eager and willing to work with our sheriff’s office to assist us in the recruitment of individuals with diverse backgrounds. These leaders would also be a part of our interview process/panels.
“... In order for our department to be more forward, we need to build better partnerships and trust across all cultures. We need to embrace and create an inclusive, welcoming environment at the sheriff’s office and greater Rock County.”
Knudson: “Having a staff that mirrors the community in terms of racial and ethnic diversity is important. This diversity provides us with a better perspective of issues, gives us enhanced legitimacy and helps us better connect with everyone in Rock County.
“We are not to the employment levels necessary to meet this standard, and it will be a priority if I am elected sheriff.”
Q: Of the changes you would like to make at the sheriff’s office, which one would have the greatest impact on improving the lives of county residents?
Groelle: “The accreditation of the sheriff’s office through the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Accreditation Group ... is a progressive and time-proven way of helping law enforcement agencies to first evaluate their agency and then improve their overall performance.
“It requires the agency to evaluate themselves on a regular basis. ... It ensures their compliance in the most current and best law enforcement practices available ...
“Once accredited, the public will be able to see that the sheriff’s office is committed to providing the best possible law enforcement services to its citizens. All employees will be held to the same high professional standards that can also be demonstrated through training exercises when applicable. It is an open demonstration of our commitment to excellence, while being completely transparent to the public.”
Knudson: “Without question, improving our connection and interaction with our community has the greatest potential for improving the lives of Rock County residents.
“... Rock County has a great deal of resources available ... to address social issues that can drive our crime and incarceration rates (such as) drug addiction, mental illness, and homelessness ...
“However, often these services are not well integrated, and those with significant needs are not connected to where the help is. We should help facilitate the connection to these services.
“... If one is able to address the underlying problems that are leading an individual to commit crime and he or she does not return to jail, our incarceration rate decreases, and we can save $70 a day per inmate.
“If incarceration rates could be reduced to the levels they were at when I started 30 years ago, the financial impact for taxpayers could be significant.
“Additionally, if these individuals become more productive members of society, ... the change can have a significant positive ripple effect in our Rock County community.”