Local business representatives packed the Lakeside-Somers Chamber of Commerce meeting to hear the three Flathead County sheriff candidates speak Tuesday afternoon.
Current Sheriff Mike Meehan, former Undersheriff Chuck Curry and Sgt. Lance Norman addressed issues such as jail overcrowding, budgeting, education and improving the technological aspects of the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office during the lunchtime session.
Curry, who served as undersheriff for 15 of his 25-year career with the sheriff’s office, pointed out the importance of fairness and said he prides himself on being a strong, consistent leader with good common sense.
“The Flathead County sheriff’s office truly needs to be publicly responsive, transparent and progressive, and as sheriff, that will be a bulk of my focus,” he said.
Curry emphasized maintaining timely responses and returning deputies to the schools, as well as budgeting during tough economic times.
“During our tenure at the sheriff’s office, we ran a very tight budget with the understanding that the response to you, the citizens, especially in the outlying areas, is of utmost importance to all of us,” he said.
Curry stressed the need to come up with “innovative ways to move people into response roles and investigative roles,” by reducing some of the management aspects in the sheriff’s office.
He said implementing programs to move all but the most dangerous offenders out of the jails could help ease jail overcrowding without raising taxes.
Norman, who has worked at the Flathead County sheriff’s office since 1992, agreed with Curry that something needs to be done about overcrowding. “We don’t need to re-invent the wheel here,” said Norman, who suggested home arrest, ankle bracelets and various home supervision programs as possible solutions.
He said the sheriff’s office should create free public education programs to help prevent crimes and emphasized the need for a citizens advisory committee to allow law enforcement a fresh perspective.
His budgeting ideas came in the form of getting administrators back out on the streets, putting less-expensive light bars inside patrol vehicles and installing push bars on patrol vehicles to reduce deer damage.
Norman also proposed an amendment to the medical marijuana law that would allow the active ingredient, THC, to be prescribed in pill form, thus eliminating grow operations next to people’s houses and second-hand smoke in public areas.
“I think education is huge and I think communication is paramount. We have to have communication within our office, with other law enforcement agencies, but most importantly, we must have communication with you, the citizens of Flathead County,” he said.
In response to community questions concerning specifics on school involvement and funding, Meehan said he supports using “school resource officers,” but hasn’t been able to get grant money to support the program.
Curry said the office could find a way to get resource officers into schools without having to depend on grants, such as putting administrators back out on the roads. “There are ways to move money around,” he said.
“There are two positions that could easily go,” said Norman. “That means there is at least one SRO [school resource officer] right there that we’re already paying for.”
In his statement, Meehan touted accomplishments of his three-and-a-half years as sheriff, which included: establishing a Children’s Advocacy Center; serving on the board of the soon-to-open state-of-the-art 911 center; exploring “Computer Cop” software for parents that monitors Internet activity; entering Flathead County felony and misdemeanor warrants on the department Web site, resulting in 60 misdemeanor offenders and 10 felons turning themselves in; and restructuring schedules to streamline the budget.
“I took an oath, many years ago, to serve the public and to uphold the Constitution of the state and the United States Constitution, and I took that very seriously... I ask for your support. You can rest assured that my goal is public safety and protecting your property,” Meehan said.