Every candidate in the Sebastian County sheriff's race wants to improve his community, but each has a different perspective on how to do it.
Sheriff's Chief Deputy and military veteran Hobe Runion, former Fort Smith police Capt. Jarrard Copeland and former Springdale police officer and United Parcel Service security official Randy McFadden are all running as Republican candidates for Sebastian County Sheriff. Because they are unopposed by a Democratic candidate, the sheriff-elect could be decided in the primary election on May 22 if one candidate receives a majority of the votes. A runoff election would be held in June.
Each candidate spoke about his qualifications, visions for the Sheriff's Office and what his focus will be if elected.
What qualities do you possess to be elected sheriff for the upcoming term?
Copeland: "I have a vast amount of experience investigating crimes and reported crimes, but also supervising investigators who look into these types of crimes and the administrative side of it.
"Fort Smith Police Department handles about 10 times the number of investigations in all categories as the Sheriff’s Office. If you ask the citizens in Sebastian County what they feel most comfortable in with a sheriff, it’s going to be one of those people who has experience in missing children cases, homicide investigations, burglary investigations."
McFadden: “I have 20 years of law enforcement experience.
"(I) moved on to UPS Corporate, where I ran operations for the first half of my career. Those qualifications have to do with running a business, which the Sheriff’s Office is an enterprise... You deal with budgets, personnel, facilities.
"Corporate security is a good experience, dealing with other agencies, and plus, you’re an investigator... There are a lot of skill sets there.”
Runion: “I think the most important thing is leadership experience with the Sheriff’s Office. I’m the only one who (has that).
"Only 20 percent of what we do is the enforcement side ... I’m the only one who has experience dealing with various aspects of the Sheriff's Office.
"They are looking for a sheriff that can serve their needs, and with a year or longer learning curve, I think that will suffer. I think I am the only one who has that verifiable experience."
What changes do you plan to implement, if any?
Copeland: “We can do a better job of communicating with our other agencies in the county ... (Criminals) move around a lot, and they count on us not knowing where they’re going, and the last thing criminals want is for agencies to share information.
"Another thing is school security. We have to do something to make our schools more secure, and whether that be putting more student resource officers in the schools, having a uniformed police officer in all the schools, which would be very expensive, or arming some of the teachers or some of the faculty like some schools have done ... People have talked about metal detectors or two locked doors to get into a school."
McFadden: "We have a high turnover rate. I dealt with that at UPS, and a lot of that doesn’t cost money. It’s programs you put in place.
"What I’m going to do is reduce crime rate and drug activity out in the county. What I’m hearing from the citizens is that they’re tired of the drugs and they’re tired of stuff being stolen.
"I’d like to implement the inmate community service, where we have inmates going out, cleaning ditches, parks."
Runion: “I don’t believe (the Sheriff's Office) is broken. I think there are things we do that we can continue to improve upon.
"The most important thing we can do is to continue to implement initiatives and programs that will improve the service to the community... I also think the continuation and implementation of technology is going to be important... Open dialogue between the smaller departments and the sheriff’s department is going to be critical."
The current sheriff and county judge are trying to expand the county jail, which has been, on average, overcrowded since 2013. Will you continue these efforts, and if so, how?
Copeland: "(They want) to convert the current sheriff’s office into a female detention center to take some of the pressure off of the current detention center... I’m not opposed to that idea. I’m open to any ideas that would alleviate the overcrowding at the jail.
"The thing I want to see is a long-term solution ... It's got to be managed right.
"It could eventually come down to some sort of a tax increase… I’m not saying I’m advocating for a tax increase, but I am saying I wouldn’t be totally opposed to that in the future if the citizens of Sebastian County agree to it.”
McFadden: “I will bring in other people with expertise on how to reduce it more. At some point, the expansion that’s in the making is going to relieve a lot of this problem.
"We’ll have to pre-plan... I want to get ahead of it, and in staying ahead of it, you don’t wait until it’s there. But with this additional unit that’s going to be built, we’ll see where we are.”
Runion: "What you have to do is continue to do everything you can to manage that population... If it doesn’t get us below our threshold, then we need to look at the possibility, in the future, of changing something or possibly expanding.
"What you do is you do the best job you can with the budgetary restraints that you have. If the public is going to be supportive of an expansion or a new jail, we follow through."
Sebastian County has some of the highest opioid abuse rates in Arkansas. Do you plan to address this, and if so, how?
Copeland: "We can’t just sit back and hope that Little Rock takes care of it. We have to stay on top of it and work with our medical personnel, emergency room personnel who see these overdoses come in all the time and come up with the solutions to prevent the overdoses and then deal with the recovery of people who have overdosed, and then the enforcement of the laws for people who are out there selling them out there on the street and abusing these drugs."
McFadden: "It needs to start, as a whole, in the schools... I think us educating people from a young age is the key to opioid reduction.
"I’ve even talked to senior citizens about it. We need to educate them on the law, like unlabeled drugs. Whatever they carry around needs to be in a container. They need to keep their stuff safe, because people like to prey on them.
"We need to be more aggressive on our drug dealers out in the county, because they’re selling these opioid pills, and they’re getting them from people or stealing them from people."
Runion: "We educate people about their prescriptions. We educate the legislators about our needs. We educate the insurance companies, talk to the doctors, the providers, all of them. But once we have education, there is certainly going to be legislation. That is going to be a piece of the pie that we have to have, and as sheriff, with our legislators, we can work together with them for legislation that will be effective in combating this... I think we are lacking in treatment, so we need to have those programs available for people. Last, of course, is enforcement, but enforcement also includes things such as drug court, such as veterans’ court, such as counseling and outpatient, depending on what the charges are."
What issues you will focus on addressing as sheriff?
Runion: "One is the opioid crisis, which also impacts all other areas.
"The other one that we’re seeing right now is school safety... (School officials are) going to have to determine what’s best for each individual school district and work with law enforcement and work with legislators ... We need to look at innovative ways to address that, whether it’s through increased security systems, whether it’s physical barriers and locks on the doors, whether it’s armed security based on what the needs are and what we can afford.
"Operationally, our biggest challenge going forward is always going to be the jail ... We have to continue to find ways to reduce that burden on the county and on the citizens.”
Copeland: "The citizens should have a say in what goes on in their agencies. We have to work with the residents in our community to identify problems and then come up with solutions that produce results for the community. The only way to do that is to get out there and meet with the citizens... I’m talking about the entire agency. Every single deputy in the agency has to be community-oriented and go out and actually get out of their cars every now and then and make contact with people and share ideas."
McFadden: "The citizens in the county want more patrol, more visibility, which if you have more visibility, you should have less crime.
"We have (jail) overcrowding, but we also have other things. We have turnover rate, which can be addressed. We have facilities where we’re having to pay a lot of money to fix fixtures, fix broken showers ... There are a lot of issues that can be fixed that can save the taxpayers money. So get in there, reduce the turnover, reduce the cost of what we have."