McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

Local News

October 17, 2012

Sheriff candidates: Drugs are big problem in Pitts. Co.

McALESTER — Pittsburg County Sheriff Joel Kerns and candidate Tracy Parrott both agree that drugs are a big problem in Pittsburg County.

Those attending Tuesday evening’s political forum at the Kiamichi Technology Center in McAlester had the opportunity to listen to Kerns and Parrott answer questions regarding their candidacy and the upcoming election.

In his opening statement, Kerns introduced himself. He said he has lived in McAlester his entire life and that he has been married to his wife Darcy for 25 years. Kerns is currently serving as Pittsburg County sheriff. “If there is anything I am doing in my current administration that you don’t like,” Kerns said, “I’ll listen to what you have to say, just call the office.”

Parrott said he was born and raised in the Pittsburg County area and, although he left for a few years, he came back. He said he is running for sheriff because of his love of law enforcement. Parrott said he served as a Pittsburg County sheriff deputy for five years under a different sheriff. He said, if elected, he will be fair to everyone.

Kerns and Parrott were each asked a series of questions.

What will you do to make people in Pittsburg County feel safer over the next four years?

Kerns said that he plans to continue utilizing the funds and equipment that the department already has. He also said that he plans to continue to seek alternative sources of funding. “Every grant that is out there, we’ve applied for,” Kerns said. “We look for new ways to generate income all the time.”

Parrott said he plans to put on his uniform and get into a vehicle and patrol at night. “I’ll put people on patrol at night,” Parrott said, “when crimes are occurring. ... We’re gonna catch these people cooking meth ... We’re gonna stop it.”

What can be done to improve staffing and upgrade equipment for the Pittsburg County Sheriff’s Department?

Parrott said he plans to use GPS technology. “Dispatch needs to know who the closest deputy is when a call comes in,” he said. Parrott also said he plans to use fuel efficient vehicles.

Kerns said he would like to be able to hire on more full-time deputies. “We just did the budget for the department and we didn’t get extra money,” he said. Kerns said that two of his deputies salaries are paid via income generating programs. Kerns said he plans to continue to utilize these income generating programs.

What is your plan to make sure all of the county has law enforcement coverage 24-7?

Kerns said he would love to promise such coverage, but there just isn’t enough money in the financial budget to warrant such coverage. “My area is from Daisy, Okla., up to 9A; from Quinton to Stuart,” Kerns said. “And there are two to three deputies per shift.” Kerns said he wishes his department could afford more staff, but this just isn’t feasible with the current budget.

Parrott also said that having law enforcement coverage in all of Pittsburg County 24-7 would be a difficult task. “The amount of deputies,” he said, “you’d need more.” Parrott said that if he is elected sheriff, Pittsburg County will have law enforcement coverage. “You have coverage,” he said. “It might take a few minutes to get there, but I guarantee someone will come out if you call.”

What training or experience will you require of your deputies?

Parrott said that training requirements for law enforcement officers are set by the state of Oklahoma. “Some of the best officers I’ve worked with are not the experienced ones,” Parrott said. “Experience sometimes means laziness and finding a place to go hide.” Parrott then discussed the hiring of younger deputies.

Kerns said, “Every deputy I have has the most up-to-date training they can have.” Kerns also said that the department has more than 30 reserve deputies with extensive training. “I’m a less-lethal type of person,” Kerns said. “I don’t want someone’s blood on my hands.” Kerns said he will use lethal force if necessary, but when not needed, he prefers a less lethal use of force. He said his deputies are fully trained in using less lethal methods of force, such as tasers.

What is the major law enforcement problem in Pittsburg County and how will you address it?

Kerns said drugs is a major problem. And often times, Kerns said, drugs leads to theft. Kerns also said laziness is a contributing factor to the crime rate. “Some people think it’s easier to steal or sell drugs than to work,” Kerns said.

Parrott agreed that drugs is a major problem in Pittsburg County. “The drug problem is the stem of a lot of crime in Pittsburg County,” Parrott said. He said he plans to change shifts and start patrolling at night. “We’ve got to go out at night and stop them when they are running up and down our back roads.”

How will you prioritize the allocation of your resources through 2016?

Parrott said he plans to utilize GPS technology. He said he plans to use current equipment with new technology. “There’s a lot of ways you can improve response times, money and safety,” he said.

Kerns said he believes he is currently doing a good job with allocating resources. He talked about patrol vehicles that were purchased during his time as sheriff, using technology to catch criminals and collaborative efforts involving other law enforcement agencies.

In closing, Parrott said that the main reasons why he wants to be elected sheriff is for fairness and equality. “I want you to be treated fairly,” Parrott said. “Getting away with a crime because of who you are or who you know is not fair.” He said he believes in enforcing the laws for everyone equally.

Kerns closed by thanking his staff and sponsors who have helped fund various programs within the sheriff’s department. He referred to the “Not Me” program, which helps encourage the youth in Pittsburg County to choose a fruitful life and not a life of crime. “We spoke to over 3,000 kids last year,” Kerns said. He also spoke of the garden program. Kerns asked that residents vote to elect him to serve as sheriff for another four years and thanked everyone present for taking the time to listen to what he had to say.”

Contact Rachel Petersen at rpetersen@mcalesternews.com.

For more on this story, see the print or electronic editions of the McAlester News-Capital. Click here for print edition home delivery or click here to see the Smart Edition for your computer, tablet, e-reader or smart phone.

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