Sheriff's candidates

Photo by Don Koralewski

Tom Kochert, center, responds to a question put to him during a forum for candidates for Williams County sheriff in the March Republican primary. To the left is Shaun Fulk and to the right is Tim Livengood. The Meet the Candidates forum, sponsored by the Bryan Area Chamber of Commerce, the Montpelier Area Chamber of Commerce, The Bryan Times and Bryan Municipal Utilities, was conducted at the Williams County Veterans Building in Montpelier Wednesday night.

MONTPELIER — The three Republican candidates for Williams County sheriff affirmed they would tackle politically sensitive cases and discussed how they would fight the drug problem during a Meet the Candidates event Wednesday evening.

A panelist asked each candidate if they would investigate to the “fullest extent of the law” politically sensitive cases regardless of “who it is, what agency and what department it is.”

Tom Kochert, a retired wildlife officer for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said the state mandate for a sheriff’s department is to provide courthouse security and law enforcement for rural and unincorporated areas of the county.

“My agency will investigate any complaint of criminal activity found in those areas. Period,” he said. “They will be investigated fully; They will be investigated totally, absolutely to the fullest extent that it can possibly be.”

It doesn’t matter, Kochert said, if it is a littering complaint, a suspected murder or something in between. He promised as sheriff they will all be investigated consistently and as timely and airtight as possible.

“It is not the sheriff’s responsibility to assign priorities to any of those criminal offenses,” he continued.

Tim Livengood, the Pioneer police chief, agreed with those sentiments.

No matter the officer and their rank, it is their job as law enforcement officers to investigate these complaints, he said.

“It doesn’t matter who people are or what they are,” Livengood said. “What it takes is fairness and consistency across the board. ... From the moment you receive a complaint until it gets processed through the court, we have to continue to make sure we take a look at every aspect of every investigation.”

While Shaun Fulk, a Stryker police officer and former sheriff’s deputy, said he would make sure these cases are investigated fully, he also feels a need to restructure the department to best handle the cases.

While a village police department might handle a few hundred calls a year, the sheriff’s department handles 4,500-5,000 calls a year. With only 13 officers, that is stressful for each of them, as they may have 30 open investigations at a time.

Fulk said he would want to create the position of detective in the department.

“A detective to go out and work those homicides, work those bigger investigations, a baby death case, anything along those lines,” he said. “It takes a little more time, someone who will be free ... to work those cases.”

That allows the road patrol officers to do things such as handle crashes, remove dead deer from the roadway or handle domestic issues.

“The workload is the key to everything,” Fulk said. “You have to be able to take those major cases and have one investigator working on these things.”

It’s not the only way he would restructure the department, as he would add the position of chief deputy and even a captain. While Fulk said he knows who he would want in those positions, he didn’t feel it was safe for their jobs and careers to name them prior to taking office.

Livengood and Kochert also went on record for wanting a chief deputy, with Kochert naming former Montpelier Police Chief Jeff Lehman as his intended chief deputy. Livengood said he wants to look at the personnel files to find the right fit prior to naming a chief deputy.

Fulk would take restructuring one step further, though, having a deputy to act solely as a drug enforcement officer.

“Our own officer that is going to work with all of the local police departments,” he said. “We can start focusing on what’s going on, share information with the 13, 14 deputies that’s on the road.”

Fulk said the drug officer would work with the judges, prosecutors and the court programs to coordinate with local organizations to help people get clean.

Livengood said he wanted to work with other law enforcement agencies in the county, including the Multi-Area Narcotics Task Force (MAN Unit).

“I don’t think it’s just a sheriff’s decision, alone. We have to start talking with other administrators in the county, working with other chiefs in the county as well as taking the opportunity to assess the current Multi-Area Narcotics Task Force and determine how well that is working,” he said. “Speak with the judges and talk with the judges and determine if the program has been successful, is it doing what we need to do.”

Livengood also said he wanted to look at resources in the county to help people get the help they need.

Kochert also said he wanted to work with local organizations, as it’s not a problem that can be arrested away and it wouldn’t be fiscally responsible to put every resource the department has solely to fighting drugs.

“There are so many non-profit groups in this county right now ... those folks who are already doing the job rehabilitating people, there are vocational rehabilitation programs, there are training programs,” he said. “They’re already self-funding, they’re already doing the work.”

Kochert said the sheriff’s job would be to work with those organizations, find their specialties and assimilate them into their common goal so when people come out of the legal system, they can be diverted to the area where they can best benefit.

The forum was recorded by Bryan Municipal Utilities and will be available to view today on the BMU Facebook page.

The primary election is March 17.

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