Sheriff candidates weigh in on issues

Two Republican party candidates are competing for the sheriff's position — incumbent Lee Becker and retired Kansas Highway Patrolman Robert "Rob" Craft.

They answered a variety of questions, primarily from those in attendance, regarding a new jail, child predators, and concealed carry gun laws.

Here are their responses.

"How would you deal with underage drinking and illegal drug use?"

Craft: He acknowledged that they both are serious issues. Educating parents to help get the behavior stopped before it gets out of control can halt future problems. "If we can get drugs slowed down, stopped, or prevented before teens reach their early 20s, it would help since it seems to be more of a pattern for life after they're in their mid-20s." He said he wants to work at educating and training officers with "what's going on," work with school and church officials, and community members, and give guidance to those who may be going down the destructive path.

Becker: "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I have maintained a zero tolerance for illegal drugs and underage drinking." He continued that there has not been an alcohol-related vehicle fatality accident in Marion County since 2002. His department has gone after drivers who are driving under the influence, deputies have been trained, and currently working on investigations from the north end to the south end of the county. "We'll have an interesting summer before it's all said and done."

"What can we do to protect our children from child predators?"

Becker: He said that he and his officers have been trained to work with other agencies to make sure information is gathered correctly from victims. "We have a child-first policy." Of the child predators currently incarcerated, he said there was one who is "home grown." The others came into the county.

Craft: By ensuring that the department is staffed with well-trained and educated officers is his way of protecting residents. He wants long-term staff members who can develop relationships with communities. He also wants families to be comfortable in coming to his office to report crime. Officers also need to be trained for Internet threats and crime and would rather work with other groups and individuals to prevent crime but is willing to prosecute.

"If a new jail bond doesn't pass, what do we do then?"

Craft: He would want to know the final cost to update the current jail facility and bring it within the mandated guidelines. A second option would be to transport prisoners elsewhere. "We need to look at those options and consider which is best." Both have pitfalls and will cost the county. "We must do something because we'll have to deal with it again." Hiring additional officers and vehicles would be required if transporting prisoners. Commissioners will have ultimate decision.

Becker: Voters will address the issue and he said he would work within those guidelines to either update the existing facility or transport prisoners. Currently, the existing jail has sewer problems which need to be corrected. An updated facility will work for jail personnel instead of personnel working for an outdated facility.

"Do you support the current concealed carry gun laws?"

Becker: "I absolutely support it. Guns in the right hands do not scare me. It's people who create the problems."

Craft: "I, too, am in favor of the law. Citizens don't worry me being in possession of firearms. It's the individual who has never made the attempt to comply with the law or the criminal who is not concerned with the law. Law-abiding citizens will follow the law."

"With skyrocketing fuel costs, what actions could you take to reduce fuel consumption?"

Craft: Reduced fuel consumption means reduced coverage. These days, patrol cars are getting better gas mileage. He said he would continue purchasing those vehicles that do get better gas mileage. "If we cut back on patrolling, it's a disservice to the public and that's the last thing we want to do." He said he would look at the budget and see what areas could be cut. Instead of officers working traffic, they could work in specific areas to keep costs in line.

Becker: There are deputies positioned around the county. Department cars get 20 miles per gallon. Two SUVs are needed within the department and the fuel economy for cars and trucks are about the same when they are patrolling towns or the reservoir. He encourages his officers to get out of the "steel and glass" and do door checks in the smaller towns.

"Inmates are used for various county services, even cutting thistles in pastures. Should this practice be expanded or cut back, and how can public safety be maintained?"

Becker: Those inmates who are given the privilege to work for the county are those serving sentences for DUI, drugs, or some type of crime that is not considered to be a risk to the public. "They haven't run off yet. They're glad to do it." Last year inmates painted the county shop and the lake hall. "I will not let people who commit crimes against children get out or those who are dangerous to the public." Those who work for the county then are not charged those days for incarceration which is $11.02 per day and it helps the county, he said.

Craft: "I firmly believe that inmates should be utilized in some capacity. They should be screened or determined if they are a risk factor." Inmates can assist with community service projects and the county but he wants them to be supervised. "I don't want them on their own or running equipment."

"The severity of offenders is shifting to include more serious offenders. What does that mean for the operation of the jail?"

Craft: More intense crimes will result in longer sentences. "A jail with 10 inmates serving a short period of time will be filled with those serving nine months to a year. Eventually, you're going to run out of room." With the number of inmates and longer sentencing, consideration may need to be given to transferring long-term inmates to other facilities to make room for county inmates serving weekend sentences. "It's going to depend on whether we can curtail the activities that are bringing them to jail. Then we can make-do a little longer."

Becker: A child molester's sentence is similar to a murderer's and those accused of those crimes can draw out the process so their jail stay is even longer. The more serious offenders change the whole tone of the jail.

In closing, Becker said he started the K-9 and DRAGNET programs. His focus is on the person who is making the methamphetamine instead of just the end-user because they are the ones who are stealing four-wheelers, copper wire, and breaking into homes.

Craft said his goal was to develop a long-term sheriff's office with officers committed to the community. By bringing in those officers and keeping them well-trained and well-staffed, the department can provide Marion County with a professional sheriff's office, and "we can go a long way to develop this county."