Seeking his second four-year term as Washtenaw County sheriff, Jerry Clayton described his experience, values, and approach to law enforcement during an Oct. 10 candidate forum moderated by the League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor Area.
Clayton, a Democrat, is running against Republican Jeffrey Gallatin, who did not attend the Nov. 10 forum.
First elected in 2008, Clayton said his goals coming into office had been ambitious and weren’t yet completely achieved. He highlighted partnerships that his office has strengthened with other law enforcement agencies, and an approach that emphasizes pro-active ways to address the root causes of crime, such as substance abuse and homelessness.
The sheriff’s office is responsible for a broad range of public safety services, including management of the jail, 911 dispatch, and police services throughout the county. He said he’d led the process that resulted in new contracts with several local municipalities for sheriff deputy patrols, consolidation of 911 dispatch operations with the city of Ann Arbor, and a proposed cost structure for animal control services.
Like other offices led by elected county officials, the sheriff’s office is an independent unit within the county government, but its budget must be authorized by the county board of commissioners. The county’s $97.7 million general fund budget for 2012, approved by the board late last year, included $23.965 million for sheriff office operations, $19.448 million for corrections, and $2.534 million for emergency services.
The Oct. 10 candidate forum was held at the studios of Community Television Network, and is available online via CTN’s video-on-demand service. Information on this and other local elections can be found on the Washtenaw County clerk’s elections division website. To see a sample ballot for your precinct, visit the Secretary of State’s website. Local candidates also were given the opportunity to answer questions for the League of Women Voters Vote411.org website. Clayton responded to four questions on that site, but Gallatin did not participate.
The candidate was given one minute to make an opening statement.
Clayton thanked the league, and said it’s important for the residents of Washtenaw County get every opportunity to hear from the people who are running for office. Noting that he assumed the office in January 2009, he said “it’s been a very interesting four years.” He and his staff have made tremendous strides in building partnerships and positioning the office to provide public safety services for all county residents and visitors, Clayton said. It’s been a strong four years, he said, but he had a very ambitious set of goals coming into office and “we’re not quite halfway there.” So he asked voters to re-elect him for another four years, because there’s still a lot to do.
What professional experiences led you to run for county sheriff, and what was the most significant in preparing you for this job?
Before being elected sheriff four years ago, Clayton said he served in the sheriff’s office for 20 years. He started as a part-time employee and worked his way through the ranks. He served at different levels – front-line staff, mid-level supervisor, and part of the executive team for a prior sheriff [Ron Schebil]. Because he served in most of the functional areas, Clayton said he has a lot of experience with what’s required to run the day-to-day operations of the sheriff’s office. The other qualification he cited relates to leadership. It’s one thing to think you know what leadership is required in the sheriff’s office, he said, “but it’s another thing to sit in the seat.” Having done that for almost four years, he said he’s a lot more seasoned and educated in terms of what needs to happen moving forward.
What values or beliefs do you hold that would influence your conduct as sheriff, or impact the choices you’d make on behalf of your constituents and the state of Michigan?
Those values and beliefs are spelled out in the mission statement of the sheriff’s office, he said, adding that it comes from the values he holds in terms of public office and service. The mission is to create public safety, which occurs in partnership, he said. The sheriff’s office can’t do it alone – he values partnerships. The other part of the mission statement is to provide quality service, he said. His staff talks a lot about leadership. Are they being leaders in the organization and in the community? If you think you’re a leader, he said, the other question is “Are you prepared to serve?” If you’re not prepared to serve, you can’t provide effective leadership. That’s another value he holds.
Clayton said the most important thing is what the office can provide to the community – it’s not about him as sheriff. That’s the final part of the office’s mission statement: to build a strong and sustainable community. Public safety is a key to that, he said. It’s not the only piece, but it’s key. He said he’s spent 24 years in the sheriff’s office because he values providing that kind of service.
Tell us how the work of the sheriff’s office reduces crime.
It’s really related to the approach that the staff takes, Clayton said. The first core strategy is community leadership – finding ways to engage the community other than arresting people and locking them up, though he noted that the staff is excellent at that part too, doing it in a humane, safe, and secure manner. But the other piece is this, he said – let’s break the cycle of insanity in criminal justice, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. “We should be addressing root cause,” he said, whether it’s substance abuse, education, homelessness or anything else. The sheriff’s office of today sees that as a significant value, he said.
The office’s second core strategy is building collaborations and partnerships, Clayton said. That’s done with several different stakeholders, including the University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University, mental health professionals, other law enforcement agencies. “We don’t see ourselves doing it by ourselves,” he said.
Working with Other Law Enforcement Agencies
Describe the relationship between the sheriff’s office and other local law enforcement agencies – the Ann Arbor police department, the University of Michigan department of public safety, and others.
The sheriff’s office has jurisdiction throughout the entire county, Clayton explained, so the staff is authorized to go throughout the county and enforce the laws of the state. But they’re very respectful of their criminal justice partners, he said. He feels the different agencies work very well together.
Clayton described local law enforcement officials as among the best in the state, if not the nation. “They’re smart, they’re dedicated, they’re not driven by ego,” he said. They’ve broken down a lot of barriers between the agencies, and spend a lot of time looking for ways to partner to provide more effective services.
As an example, he noted that a few years ago, there were four SWAT teams in Washtenaw County, operated by different law enforcement agencies. Today there’s one. That’s because nobody cared what it was called or who led it, he said. All that the law enforcement officials in this county cared about was how to gain efficiencies in delivering services, he added, and how to be better stewards of taxpayer dollars. They’re trying to reduce redundancies and gain efficiencies, and that’s to the credit of all law enforcement agencies in the county, he said.
County Jail Conditions
Are you satisfied with the conditions for inmates in the county jail?
Addressing all the residents of Washtenaw County, Clayton called it “your jail, not my jail.” “You paid for it, you elected me four years ago and hopefully you’ll elect me for four more years,” he said. The sheriff’s office has a strong philosophy about how they manage inmates, he said. It’s called inmate behavior management, and is recognized throughout the state, he said. The U.S. Dept of Justice and the National Institute of Corrections also support this approach.
It’s really about changing expectations, he explained. In the traditional setting, everyone expects people to come into the jail and act up, he said. Jails were built with that expectation in mind. Now, “we’ve turned that on its head,” Clayton said. They expect people who come into the jail to behave like normal adults. If they don’t, the jail is set up to manage people, he added. But if the staff sets up the expectation that people will act like normal adults, “then I think people do.” That positions people, when they return into the community, for a smoother transition, he said.
The jail provides good medical care, Clayton said. It’s not over the top, but it meets all of the basic needs. Programs are put in place to help address root causes, and to help inmates transition back into the community. People need to remember that “it’s our jail,” Clayton said. Most of the people who end up in jail are residents who come back into the neighborhoods. “We should do the things that are necessary to help re-integrate them back into the neighborhood and be productive citizens,” he concluded.
What are your solutions to overcrowding in the county jail, and what effect will these solutions have on the county budget?
Clayton said he thinks they’ve already implemented the best solutions to overcrowding. The state has a jail overcrowding act. The county is bound by that statute, but in the past there weren’t a lot of pro-active measures taken, and they reached the point where overcrowding occurred. Now, the sheriff’s office has a jail population management plan, he said. They work in partnership with the rest of the criminal justice system – local judges, probation officers, the community corrections division, which is part of the sheriff’s office. “We look for alternatives to incarceration,” he said.
The goal is to keep the county safe – but people who don’t need to be in jail shouldn’t be in jail. So they have a strategy to address jail overcrowding before it occurs, he said. They identify people who are risks to the community and keep them in jail. But those who don’t pose risks are put into appropriate programs, he said. “We’ve been very successful in not having to declare overcrowding.”
[By way of background, jail overcrowding was a chronic issue during the tenure of the previous sheriff, Dan Minzey. The jail – located near the intersection of Carpenter and Hogback roads – was expanded to add 112 beds to the previous 332-bed facility. That expansion was already underway when Clayton took office in January of 2009 and was completed in 2010. The county makes $800,000 annual bond payments related to the roughly $37 million project, which included a new 14A-1 District Court facility. For additional background, see Chronicle coverage: "Panel Sheds Light on Washtenaw Jail" and "More Funds Requested for County Jail, Courts."]
Clayton was given two minutes for a closing statement. He described the four years that he’s been sheriff as the best four years of his professional career, and he’s been with the sheriff’s office for 24 years. He believes he has the leadership skills necessary to keep moving the office in the right direction. The willingness to work in partnership with the rest of county government, with township officials, with the sheriff’s office staff means that everyone is moving in the same direction. The sheriff’s office staff is smart about what they do, he said, and they recognize that the best solutions come in partnership with others, not in conflict with others. “We can continue to make Washtenaw County a great place – I want to be part of that.”
Clayton said he hoped that it’s clear over the past four years that he’s done at least one smart thing – putting in place the best executive staff that anyone in his position could have. He praised undersheriff Mark Ptaszek, chief deputy Rick Kaledas, commander of police services Dieter Heren, corrections commander Sherry Woods, and director of community engagement Derrick Jackson. All of them are very qualified in their functional area, he said, and also great leaders. The mark of any good leader is someone who’s at least smart enough to surround themselves with good people, he said. The executive staff are good people and good leaders, he said, and as a result of that, the office has turned a corner.
Earlier in the day, the office held its awards banquet, he noted. Over 80 of their staff were recognized for the work that they do – some of it very heroic, he said, like pulling people out of burning buildings. But some of them were recognized for things that are just a part of their job. You have to recognize and honor people for doing their job. The event lasted three hours, and they still didn’t recognize everyone, he said. He hoped the voters of Washtenaw County would return him to office for a second term because he’s extremely proud to be part of the organization, and proud to lead the men and women of the sheriff’s office.
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