Do you feel safe living, working, or visiting Harford County?
We all want lower taxes, better schools, and nicer amenities in our communities, but if we don’t feel safe in our own neighborhoods, none of that really matters.
Public safety transcends party affiliation, but this election season there are four Republican candidates vying for the opportunity to go head-to-head with Democratic Sheriff Jesse Bane in the General Election this November.
The Dagger caught up with those men – Steven Bodway, Jeff Gahler, Jack Meckley, and Roger Sheets – and posed them the same set of questions.
Those questions, and the varying answers of the candidates, are listed below:
In one paragraph, please give a brief biographical sketch of yourself:
I began my police career from Bel Air in 1973 when joining the United States Army as a Military Policeman. My first duty station was Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. I also served in West Germany and Greece. After serving for 6 years and leaving the military as a Sergeant, I served with the Department of Defense Police at Aberdeen Proving Ground in the Edgewood Area. In 1980 I was hired by Sheriff William J. Kunkel and graduated from the Sheriff’s Office Training Academy. For the next decade, I patrolled the Edgewood and Joppa areas of Harford County. In 1983 I was named “Deputy of the Year” stemming from an incident involving an attempted murder case in Edgewood. Upon being promoted to Corporal I was assigned to create and implement a Traffic Unit for the Sheriff’s Office. When promoted to Sergeant, I was assigned to the Criminal Investigation Division and later was appointed to Internal Affairs where I worked for 3 years. As a Lieutenant, I was the Watch Commander at the Southern Precinct in Edgewood and in 2000 was promoted to Captain. I commanded the Harford County Task Force for the next 5 years. In 2005 I commanded the Court Services Division and in 2006 was promoted to Major of Administration. In 2006 I graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a Masters degree in Management. On August 1, 2008 I decided to retire after twenty-eight years of service and dedicated myself to seek the top law enforcement job in Harford County. My wife, Leisa and I reside in Belcamp and we have two children, Ryan and Laura. We also have two wonderful grandchildren, Alexander and Emily. My son Ryan is a 6 year veteran of the Baltimore County Police Department. My entire career has been in law enforcement and I have been blessed to have served side by side with many brave men and women wearing many different uniforms and badges over the past 30 years.
I am a 33 year resident of Harford County and a proud graduate of North Harford High School and Harford Community College (A.A. degree). I received my B.S degree and M.S degree in Management from the Johns Hopkins University and have served the citizens of Harford County and the State of Maryland for more than twenty-six years as a Maryland State Trooper. During my career with the State Police, I have been honored to work for the citizens of Harford County as a law enforcement officer and operational commander for more than17 years. I patrolled Harford County providing a wide range of police services to a growing community, provided operational direction to patrol and investigative resources as a shift commander and served our citizens as the Bel Air Barrack commander, directing patrol, investigative and special operations resources within the County. Most recently, having obtained the rank of Captain, I served for three years as the area’s Troop Commander. In this role, I led State Police activities in Harford, Cecil and Carroll counties, providing a wide range of police services to a population of more than 500,000 citizens and daily leadership and support to 195 personnel. Although I have held numerous ranks and positions within diverse areas of the Maryland State Police, as a statewide police department, each position held had direct ties to the citizens of Harford County. I currently reside in Forest Hill with my wife, Sonya, and our two daughters, Shelby (12) and Sydney (8).
My name is Jack Meckley and I’m 42 years old. Not originally from this area, I joined the Army when I was 17 and was stationed here at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Prior to receiving my honorable discharge, I began testing for the Harford County Sheriff’s Office. I was accepted and entered the academy in July of 1988 at the age of 20. Since January of 2006, I have been the Watch Commander of the 4-12 shift based out of the Edgewood Precinct. In my career I have worked in the following capacities within the Sheriff’s Office; Internal Affairs, Undercover Detective, Rape/Robbery Detective, Drug Interdiction, Honor Guard, Academy Instructor, Polygraph Examiner, Senior Drill Instructor, and a member of the SWAT Team for 8 years. During my career, I have received numerous awards and citations for my performance and duties to include; A Governor’s Citation, Maryland Sheriff’s Association “Deputy of the Year”, Harford County Executive’s Citation, a Unit Citation Award, a Exceptional Duty Award, 3 Merit Awards, a Valor Award, and the Purple Heart. I have both my Bachelors and Masters Degrees in Management from Johns Hopkins University.
I am a life long Harford County Resident. I have more than 40 years of Public Safety and Law Enforcement experience. I served 30 years with the Baltimore County Police, with over half of my career in Command positions. I lead many units of the department including the Crime Analysis, Crime Prevention, Personnel Unit, Honor Guard, and The School Resource Officer programs. I attended the Senior Management Institute at the John F. Kennedy School of Government and have extensive training and experience in law enforcement leadership. I have been active in the community in my church and am a member of the St. Ignatius Knights of Columbus Council 9729. I served on the Board at St Margaret’s School and was a two term President for the Home School Association. I spent more than 30 years working in the Harford County recreation programs and coaching youth sports. I am a life time member of the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Company having served in both in EMS and fire suppression. I am currently the Security Director for LifeBridge Health in Baltimore. I served three terms as President of the Maryland Chapter of Healthcare Security and I am on the Board of Directors of the International Association for Healthcare Security & Safety. I live in Bel Air with my wife, Kitty and we have four adult children and two grandchildren.
What is at stake for Harford County in the year’s sheriff race?
The Sheriff’s election in 2010 has garnered more attention than any Sheriff’s race in history and for good reason. Harford County is faced with many challenges to include the Base Realignment and Closure issues and other demands for police services. The top law enforcement official requires the leadership skills, decisiveness and ability to work with every public safety entity that serves Harford County. I accept the fact that the Sheriff’s Office cannot do the job alone. The best method to protect our citizens is to ensure that every resource necessary to secure the public safety is utilized. Every citizen of Harford County has a stake in their own protection. The people have entrusted their public officials with securing their persons and property from harm. As our county grows in population we must be ready to respond to every call for service to protect our citizens and their property from any harm. In addition, we remain conservative of our need to ensure that we are diligent with every single taxpayer dollar.
There is no more important selection to be made than who will serve as Harford County’s law enforcement leader. The law enforcement demands of today, although serious, will pale in comparison to those of the not too distant future if the opportunity to make positive and effective change is missed. Without excellent law enforcement and public safety services and a true expectation of living in safety, no community can expect to thrive. In our County, the person elected as Sheriff is not only is responsible for the law enforcement mission, but oversees Corrections, Court Security and Civil Process. Elsewhere in the State, many of these responsibilities have been separated from the Office of the Sheriff. These functions, properly managed together, create the four corners from which I plan to build an effective, efficient and responsive law enforcement platform dedicated to protecting our citizens and communities from crime and criminals. This year, voters will go to the polls to elect leaders in many State and local positions. Although they will be voting for everything from Governor to Central Committee members, there is no office that they will vote for that will have more of an impact and presence in each person’s everyday life than that of Sheriff of Harford County.
Quite simply put, the future of our safety is at stake. In my career I have learned firsthand that the actions, mis-actions, or even worse the in-actions of police officers and agencies can be forever unforgiving. Unlike other professions, we in law enforcement have very little room for error. Decisions must sometimes be made quickly knowing that they will have immediate and long-term effects on individuals and communities. Relying on the wrong leader to make these decisions could potentially put our communities at great risk for the next 4 years. The emphasis must be placed back on the simple concept that “bad-guys need to go to jail.” As the next Sheriff, I promise that the Sheriff’s Office will develop and maintain a relentless pursuit of the criminal element. I will be fiscally sound, and will promise to uphold my oath to defend both the U.S. and Maryland Constitutions.
Harford County is continuing to grow and change. The County needs new and experienced leadership to support the hard working men and women of the Harford County Sheriffs Office. The Sheriffs Office has been hit with a pattern of ineffective leadership that has lead to a decay in morale within the agency, and a loss of community support. The fear of violent crime, drugs and gangs is a growing concern in almost every community in Harford County. Without change, we will continue to see these problems grow.
Without effective public safety leadership we will see a direct impact on the day to day quality of life of our citizens and the inability to attract new businesses into Harford County. The gang and drug issues will continue to grow and have a direct impact on our schools and in our communities. Our taxpayers dollars will continue to be spent to defend the Harford County Sheriffs Office against potential negligence and mismanagement. What is at stake more than anything else is, we will loose the best men and women working for the Harford County Sheriffs Office as their frustration builds over the lack of effective leadership and growth for the agency.
What is the biggest law enforcement issue in the county right now, and what would you do to improve the situation?
The biggest law enforcement issue right now is manpower on the street and within the Detention Center. The Detention Center is undergoing construction of a new addition but lacks the personnel necessary to properly staff it. In patrol, the commanders responsible for your safety in their respective areas need personnel to get the job done. My platform of responsible improvements within the Sheriff’s Office involves returning deputies to the precincts, Task Force and Investigations. Currently, the Sheriff’s Office has too many sworn deputies performing non-police related duties. Harford County can no longer afford a continuation of mismanagement of personnel and we cannot allow deputies to do anything else except law enforcement tasks. My platform will make changes within 30 days and allows us to do what we do best, law enforcement. This plan will have a dramatic impact on the way we do business. In addition, our primary objective is to work side by side with our counterparts from the State Police, Federal authorities and local municipal police departments. Our relationships with the Fire and ambulance services is also a crucial step which creates cooperation among services and improves the quality of life for all our citizens.
Violent crime related to gangs, drugs and repeat offenders are the most serious law enforcement issues facing Harford County. Intellectually these issues appear separate but operationally they must be viewed as one. The answers and methods of addressing these threats to our safety are synonymous. A commitment to focus on that small group among our citizens who are responsible for the majority of the crime will have a major positive impact on the safety of our citizens and communities.
Single and narrowly focused crime reduction efforts on a particular geographic area CANNOT be viewed as a solution. The solution involves inclusion geographically and a big picture approach. Current efforts are comprised of a narrowly focused effort to address acts in one area. Regrettably, this “focus” has resulted in crime being more dispersed throughout Harford County. Displacement, or pushing crime from one neighborhood to another, offers temporary relief to a small area while allowing crime to take root in other areas of the County. My administration will aggressively pursue crime and criminals throughout Harford County and focus on the gang members and repeat offenders (often the same) who are responsible for the majority of violations.
My administration will strive not only to attack crime and criminals but to be the voice for our citizens and communities to call for more time for violent crime. It is important to remove violent criminals from our neighborhoods and to provide for effective incarceration. A comprehensive approach of enforcement and incarceration sends a strong message to criminals who may want to victimize our friends and relatives.
My commitment to safe communities begins with restoring positions in the patrol element of the Sheriff’s Office. Providing a more robust and responsive patrol force by reducing duplicative special units that have taken deputies from our neighborhoods is key to county-wide crime reduction efforts. The patrol force is the backbone of any proactive and effective law enforcement agency and the return of deputies to the main mission; equipped with logistical, operational and administrative support, will create a safer Harford County. Although most investigations are primarily assigned to patrol deputies, investigations requiring specialized skill, knowledge, and abilities will remain with dedicated investigative personnel possessing required expertise.
Without a doubt, the majority of the questions that I received as a candidate have dealt with drugs and gangs. Most of the crimes that continually plague and hamper our freedoms can trace their roots back to some type of drug activity. The vast majority of gang activity, home invasions, street robberies, burglaries, assaults, and homicides have one common denominator….drugs. Currently the Sheriff’s Office does not effectively deal with the street-level drug element, and that is something that I plan to change. Taking down the mutli-pound dealers is a great thing, but the truth is that those arrests do not have an immediate impact on the street-level drug dealers. Drug dealing in Harford County is not like in a movie or TV series, that is, it’s not maintained by one drug lord who runs the county’s drug supply. The fact is that Harford County is within close proximity (2-3 hour driving distance) of 4 source cities (Baltimore, D.C., Philly, and N.Y.C.). A source city is one where a person can easily purchase a bulk supply of any type of illegal drug at a cheaper price, and then break that drug down for individual sales back here in the county. So, one apartment complex within an open-air drug market here in Harford County may potentially be supplied by 4 or more lower-level drug dealers who can drive to one of the source cities at will to replenish their supply. As Sheriff, I will continue to target the multi-pound dealer in addition to targeting the street-level dealers and runners who are the ones involved in the gangs, the home invasions, and the homicides. Each arrest will lead to a complete debriefing which will potentially lead to information concerning these other crimes. This overt and covert approach throughout the county will help ensure that we are not simply relocating the problem. By never letting them breathe, my hope is that they will realize how difficult it is to set-up shop here in Harford County. I will also target the R.O.P.E. offenders, and continue to work closely with parole/probation agents to ensure that the recidivism rate goes down among these criminals. Posing as a drug addict, I have purchased drugs from over 400 people, and sat in crack houses all over the county. I have authored search warrants and wiretaps based on the probable cause that I developed while working undercover. I am confident that this approach will have a dramatic impact on crime.
The most challenging issue facing Harford County law enforcement is building collaboration, both within the County and with our outside law enforcement partners. The current leadership of the Sheriffs Office has failed to effectively connect with, and build relationships with the municipal police agencies, police agencies within the region, the State Police and our federal law enforcement partners. Issues like gangs and drugs while they have a local impact, must be addressed on a broader scale.
As the next Sheriff for Harford County, I will work closer with these other agencies and build a string collaboration for gathering intelligence and crime data to support a county wide approach to managing crime problems in our communities. I will also work to build a more positive relationship with our States Attorney’s Office to assure the optimum in prosecution for our most violent offenders. I will institute a number of new initiatives to help us engage our communities in the fight against crime in every community in Harford County.
Connections have recently come to light between the murder last month in Bel Air and the 2007 beating of the victim’s stepfather in Edgewood. Also, there has been a spate of shootings in Edgewood in recent days and weeks. If you were sheriff, how would you handle these incidents and deal this apparent pattern of violence?
One can never predict crime nor should a law enforcement officer ever drop their guard even when the climate seems calm and rested. Once again, Harford County has fallen victim to the criminal acts of those that have chosen a life of social destruction. The purpose of law enforcement is to deter crime but investigate it when it takes place and arrest those for the purpose of justice. The recent acts of violence is a testament to the need to implement a new methodology of how the police agencies conduct their strategies. The best method to combat crime is through intense intelligence with a common goal of sharing and implementing strategies. The recent criminal activity involves a few bad guys that create huge concerns for the good people that live here. Responding to this issue by additional patrol, issuing citations and turning up the heat on a particular community is a temporary measure and often hurts those that have no intentions of being involved in criminal activity. The smart method is to continually use our talent and technology through Intelligence sharing and implementing a coordinated effort to identify and reduce the chances of criminal acts taking place. Harford County possesses the tools necessary to make these strategies work but they need the leadership to make it happen.
Regrettably, the murder of Derrick Maxey, Jr. in the American Legion parking lot in Bel Air is a timely example that violent criminals are not being removed from our communities and effectively incarcerated. Records show that the suspect in this shooting served 3 years and 6 months of a 10-year sentence for a beating he committed in Harford County. Realizing that only a small number of people among us are responsible for the majority of the crimes committed, law enforcement must aggressively monitor violators and remove opportunity through efficient monitoring and incarceration. By focusing the County’s law enforcement resources on the individual perpetrators who are responsible for the majority of violent criminal acts a positive impact on the safety of our citizens and communities will be realized. My aforementioned (question #3) commitment to focusing on those violent and repeat offenders, working to ensure periods of incarceration that will actually serve to deter crime and restoring deputies to patrol to ensure they are in our communities effectively interacting with witnesses, concerned citizens, victims and criminals, is the basis of my platform to deal with the violent acts that have become all too common in Harford County.
In addition to the plan mentioned in the previous question, I plan on improving communications between the Sheriff’s Office and the allied agencies. The biggest obstacle that most agencies deal with in fighting crime is “intelligence.” The problem is that the road officers receive the intelligence and send it up to the appropriate people, but rarely do they receive any intelligence back. Compound that problem by adding different agencies within the same county trying to catch the same criminal using different reporting forms, radio channels, and databases. I propose that all the agencies contribute to one central county-wide database and that all intelligence is shared between the agencies. This will help our county to remove any governmental barriers that have been imposed by jurisdictional boundaries. We as law enforcement are not only dealing with home-grown criminals, we are also the line of defense against terrorists — both foreign and domestic. Intelligence is not too useful in law enforcement unless it can be analyzed and delivered in real-time. Otherwise we spend too much time looking at “what was” rather than “what could be.” That is the difference between being a pro-active agency and being a re-active agency. I am a deputy who has had my boots on the ground fighting side by side with other officers for the past 22 years and being elected Sheriff will not change that.
We have seen a pattern of failed strategies in addressing the issues in certain communities. The current Sheriffs Administration has opted to use a strategy that only has a temporary displacement effect on crime.
This very narrow approach, with out a more long term strategic plan that involves working with other law enforcement agencies, the States Attorney, County Government and our communities has lead us to this pattern. The gang members arrested and held in the Harford County Detention Center are now being released back into the community and are now seeking to re-establish their drug trade through violent crimes.
As Sheriff, I will work more closely to effectively identify and pursue the most violent offenders here in Harford County. We will present effective cases for prosecution at the state and federal levels to provide for maximum incarceration in state or federal correctional facilities. We will engage the communities to help us identify at risk youth and develop community programs to attack the issues of gangs and drugs.
I will work with the County government to support more programs for home ownership and reduce the number of poorly maintained rental properties that can often attract the criminal element to communities.