Sheriff candidates discuss school safety, drug epidemic

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Hundreds packed the Red Lion Hotel Thursday evening in Kalispell to hear what the four men running for Flathead County sheriff had to say and why voters should pick them.
The bulk of the evening included the candidates — Calvin Beringer, Brian Heino, Keith Stahlberg and Jordan White — answering questions that were pre-determined and also from the audience.
Many of the questions centered around drugs in the valley. All of the candidates said they understand law enforcement can’t “arrest” its way out of the problem. They believed it must be a community effort and also said a drug court was needed.
“No question there’s a problem,” Flathead County Sheriff’s Office Patrol Commander Brian
Heino said. “We seized 42 pounds of methamphetamine in 2017. It’s like building a house, you just don’t hire a plumber to do it all. This has to be something the entire community is part of. We have to catch these kids early and get them help before it becomes a bigger problem.”
Stahlberg, the current sergeant on patrol with the county Sheriff’s Office, wants to bring dog detection dogs back to the county. He also sees a need for a drug treatment facility.
“Early detection and intervention is a great way to stop things before they get out of hand,” he said. “We also need to have a treatment facility here.”
White, the former undersheriff for the county, said a drug court would give young people a chance and judges a different choice instead of throwing them into the system.
Beringer, a former deputy sheriff and former director of the county’s Emergency Management Services, said it’s a matter of partnering with other agencies in the valley and continuing to target upper echelon drug dealers.
School safety, another hot topic nationwide, was discussed.
Most believed student resource officers were necessary, or some type of law enforcement presence at schools.
White said an adopt-a-school program can work, “if we’re committed to it.”
Beringer thought retired law enforcement and military personnel could become mentors to students.
“Finding kids who are having issues and getting them help as soon as possible is critical to heading off problems,” Beringer said.
Heino said finding money to implement some of these ideas is not easy, but that there are grants to help pay the way.
“There are grants that could pay up to 75 percent of the costs of having student resource officers and those are the people that can build those relationships with the kids and have a better understanding of what’s happening.
Stahlberg said the adopt-a-school program could pay big benefits.
“Getting the deputies into the schools is a way to build relationships and see what these kids are dealing with. I’d like to see them read a book to the kindergarten students and maybe give a civics lesson to eighth-grade students.”
There were differing answers from each candidate on their relationship with the Sheriff’s Office and why the deputies should support them.
For Heino, it’s that he has been with the department for 17 years.
“I’ve kind of done it all here, I believe in leading from the front,” Heino said. “I’ve never left, I’m not going anywhere and I believe in my guys and I believe they believe in me.”
Stahlberg said he is not a politician, loves his job and wants to make the county better.
“I’m a straight-shooter and there’s not one person that will outwork me in this position,” Stahlberg said. “I plan to be a working sheriff and I will continue to be out on patrol a minimum of 10 hours per week. I may not know all the answers, but it doesn’t mean I won’t take your phone call or answer an email.”
White said his varied experiences will make him a unique leader.
“I have significant experience in the department and outside it and I believe that will make me a unique leader,” he said. “When I left the department in 2012 to help start Two Bear [Air], it was an opportunity to create a new service, it was something I had always wanted to do.
“With Two Bear, it was a three- to five-year strategy with it and I’m bringing back resources that I wouldn’t have without that experience.”
Beringer said his decision to leave and return the department were both related to his working relationship with Sheriff Chuck Curry.
“When I left, it was over a difference of opinion of how to manage. I prefer to give employees the tools to succeed at their work. And when I came back, it was at Chuck’s suggestion to be involved in the 911 Center.”
There are more question and answer sessions planned in the coming weeks before the June 5 primary election.
Kalispell City Council will host a televised candidate forum at 6 p.m., Tuesday, May 2 for this year’s primary elections, including candidates from House Districts 7 and 9, county commission and sheriff.
The forum will be held in council chambers at City Hall, 201 First Ave. East. The forum will be broadcast on Kalispell’s public access channel (Cable Channel 190) live and then repeated at varying times up to the primary election in June.
On Thursday, May 3, the Bigfork Area Chamber of Commerce will host a forum for the sheriff and county commissioner candidates. The forum will begin at 5:30 p.m. with each candidate given a set amount of time to address the audience. A moderated session of pre-selected questions will follow. The evening will wrap up with an opportunity for attendees to mingle with the candidates.
Also, the Easthaven Baptist Church is hosting a forum for the sheriff candidates at 1 p.m. Friday, May 4.
Reporter Scott Shindledecker may be reached at 758-4441 or sshindledecker

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