Friday, October 31, 2008

Questions and Answers: Blaine County Sheriff

1. Blaine County's crime rate jumped 27 percent in 2007. What is the single most important thing that the sheriff can do to reduce the number of serious crimes in the county?

2. What is the most serious law enforcement challenge facing Blaine County?

3. What steps have you taken, or will you take, to retain deputies within the sheriff's department?

4. Do you believe that alcohol consumption, both by minors and adults, is a problem in Blaine County. If so, what should the sheriff's office do to reduce potentially harmful impacts of alcohol abuse?

Steve England

Age: 33

Party: Independent

Experience: 10 years law enforcement in Blaine County

Occupation: Lieutenant, Hailey Police Department

1. Focusing on basic law enforcement functions and getting back to basics. I will be Blaine County's full-time sheriff, thus creating a healthy and positive working atmosphere and retaining a fully staffed department. I will have my finger on the pulse of our community and our sheriff's office. By doing all this, the outlying areas of our county will receive much-needed police protection. This will also allow deputies and detectives to turn more attention toward investigation and prevention of the more serious and high-profile crime activity in our county.

2. Our county's youth is the most serious challenge facing law enforcement in our county. The youth drug and alcohol use appears to increase year by year. This also relates to other crimes, such as vandalism and burglary. I would hope to educate our youth at a younger age level by working with community organizations and parents. Reaching out to our youth in a positive way at a young age will be beneficial in the long run.

3. I will gain the necessary knowledge concerning the well-being of employees, and allow them to verbalize their needs and concerns. I would also like to try a democratic management style in which deputies participate in an open decision-making process, and I will continue to fight for higher pay and affordable housing within our county. All of these things will create trust, respect and a closer working relationship with the sheriff and all employees.

4. Yes, most definitely. DUI arrests and underage consumption are at an all-time high in our county. We need to come together as a community and attempt to take a stand against various alcohol-related issues. I would like to see more education in our schools and health classes as to the impacts of alcohol, and I would help to implement more accessible meetings for youth that have been addicted in the past. I would also like to see a stronger stance taken on service in drinking establishments and a community-based effort on getting people home safely by regularly using designated drivers.

Walt Femling

Age: 51

Party: Republican

Experience: 28 years law enforcement in Blaine County

Occupation: Blaine County Sheriff

1. While it is true that the crime rate for all of Blaine County jumped 27 percent, our crime rate at the sheriff's office went up only 2.4 percent, but the crime rate for the Hailey Police Department jumped a whopping 71.2 percent. So where is the problem? We addressed this issue by creating a strategic plan to assist us in determining both the present and future needs of the community we serve, as well as planning for the future needs of our department. We established goals, objectives, strategies and results for each area. This plan has had a positive impact as our crime rate increased only 2.4 percent.

2. There are many challenges that I would classify as serious, and we have identified them in our strategic plan: 1. Violent crime is on the increase, with 50 percent more felony jail days over the past four years. 2. Not allow gangs and criminal organizations to become entrenched into our community. 3. Maintain current law-enforcement service levels with the increase for calls for service. 4. Improve commuter traffic problems on Highway 75 and outlying subdivisions. 5. Provide affordable housing and transitional housing for emergency service workers.

We have already identified these as our challenges and have put strategies into place to address these issues and they are working.

3. We send a recruitment team to attend job fairs and make presentations to universities. The county put into place a new compensation plan last year that showed the sheriff's office was 20 percent under the market rate, and there is a commitment to enhance their wages. We sign new recruits to a three-year contract, and I have worked hard to help them find affordable housing. Last year, I brought in a leadership consulting team that surveyed all of our employees on how we can improve our team. With the survey results, we then had a three-day professional development program to put strategies into place to improve our department.

4. I have started to work with Ed Terrazas to form a committee to implement an impaired-driving program called "Tipsy Taxi." This program started in Aspen in 1983 with a philosophy that there should be a partnership between law enforcement and the community to encourage residents and tourists to make correct choices and to keep the impaired person physically separate from their car. This program of using vouchers for free rides home utilizing our current taxi businesses has had success in other areas. Our hope as we bring you this program is that we can count on your support to slow down the amount of impaired driving.

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