The next installment of The Dagger’s Q & A with candidates in the 2014 Gubernatorial Primary Election features the Republican candidates running for Harford County Sheriff.
Two candidates will face off in the primary, retired Maryland State Police Capt. Jeff Gahler, and Harford County Sheriff’s Office deputy John Ryan. The winner will advance to face incumbent Sheriff Jesse Bane, who is seeking a third term, and independent candidate Bob Peck in the General Election. Their answers to The Dagger’s four questions appear below, in the alphabetical order of the candidate’s name.
Dagger: What qualifications would you bring to the office of Sheriff of Harford County?
Gahler: Character, competence, and commitment are essential attributes that I bring to the Office of the Sheriff for Harford County, Maryland.
I have proudly served the citizens of Harford County and the State of Maryland for 28 years as a career police officer with the Maryland State Police. I retired as a Captain, a leadership position in the State Police I proudly held for nine years after providing a full range of law enforcement and public safety services to our communities. In my role of Captain, among other operational, executive, and administrative assignments, 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 for nearly 200 police personnel. Utilizing a leadership style that sought causes and solutions, accountability and responsibility, and encouraged innovative solutions and recognition of effectiveness and efficiency, I am pleased to have shown a repeated record of success to include leading Carroll County to the lowest crime rate in the state during my tenure as the area’s Troop Commander.
My wife and I are proud residents of Harford County, with our two wonderful daughters in our public schools and many family members and friends throughout our community. I graduated from North Harford High School; hold an A.A. from Harford Community College, a B.S. and M.S. in leadership from Johns Hopkins University. Additionally, I am a founding partner of the Advanced Leadership Consortium , a law enforcement and public safety training and consulting company dedicated to providing quality and timely topics to public safety leaders and I also instruct undergraduate students at Johns Hopkins University School of Education. My experience, education and perseverance combined with my strong character, competence, and commitment makes me uniquely qualified to serve as Harford County’s next Sheriff.
Ryan: I feel I have several critical factors which make me the best qualified candidate for the Office of Sheriff. First I am a career law enforcement officer with 25 years of service. The majority of that service is with the Sheriff’s Office. That makes me very familiar with the internal workings of the agency and its associated dynamics. I have served in multiple specialized units as well as having extensive experience as a patrol deputy in every area of the county. I understand the complex issues that our citizens face and the issues that face our deputies. This is an important factor. Administrators often focus on upper level management issues while micromanaging the tasks that deputies must preform. This leads to low moral and ineffective policing. Coming from inside the ranks I have not lost perspective. I truly understand what the important issues and tasks are at the working end.
Second, I have experience as a small business owner and business manager. I have the ability to prioritize tasks and goals, plan for the future, manage budgets, and make the difficult decisions that are required of an agency head. I will surround myself with competent professionals. Each of whom are fully qualified to run their respective commands. As agency head I will utilize each members abilities toward the collective goal. Which is, providing the most professional, effective and efficient law enforcement service possible to the citizens of Harford County. I am a life long resident of Harford County and I share the same dream as each of you, to live in and raise my family in a safe environment.
In short my combination of law enforcement experience, direct knowledge of the agency and it’s function, knowledge of the issues at hand and a solid business background fully prepare me for the Office of Sheriff. When combined with true leadership, a direct, common sense approach, and a burning desire to advance the agency forward I feel I am truly the best man for the job.
Dagger: Please cite a previous decision, strategy, or initiative carried out by the agency with which you either strongly agree or disagree, and why.
Gahler: The incumbent’s deliberate decision to not appoint a qualified leader at the Detention Center is one decision I strongly disagree with. Over 25 months ago, the incumbent Sheriff, in response to publicity surrounding the shocking number of inmate deaths at the Detention Center, committed, in response to a call to correct deficiencies, “…to hire a person with an extensive background in corrections with experience in re-entry and mental health issues in a correctional setting….”
Now it appears that the incumbent’s commitment to the citizens of Harford County is again being called into question with the just announced hiring of a person who, based on Sheriff Bane’s own statement, lacks the qualifications to be the Warden of the Detention Center. After 25 months, the appointment of an individual with no corrections experience to lead the Detention Center appears to be politically motivated and its timing suspect.
Nine deaths while in custody within the protective environment of the Harford County Detention Center and no leadership action to speak of is very troubling. More than two years of inaction on the part of the incumbent to recruit and hire a professional to lead the Detention Center is even more troubling. Every effort must be made to ensure the safety of each individual under the supervision of the incumbent while being held at the Detention Center, even if that protection is from themselves. It is the incumbent’s basic responsibility to protect people in his custody from harm and to uphold their constitutional rights. As the incumbent proclaims on his website “The primary purpose of the Detention Center is to provide care, custody and safety of the prisoners and staff.”
As Sheriff, one of my first acts will be to appoint an individual, “with an extensive background in corrections with experience in re-entry and mental health issues in a correctional setting,” to the position of warden. Unlike the incumbent’s unfulfilled promise, I will keep my word and hire a person who will possess the experience and qualifications for the position. I will then work with the Warden to ensure proper monitoring and accountability while identifying and addressing the multitude of leadership, mental health, staffing and other issues plaguing the Detention Center.
Ryan: One area which I believe the Sheriff’s Office has been proactive is the acquisition of a helicopter. While I may not completely agree with every aspect of the process I do believe it was forward thinking. Coming from an aviation background I understand that while it is certainly expensive to acquire and operate such a unit it also offers great advantages. We can not continue to rely on other agencies for support. An aviation unit is much like a SWAT Team, expensive, high liability, and when you need one absolutely priceless. Acquiring the aircraft from government surplus allowed us to step into the aviation arena with minimal financial impact. The start up costs being the most prohibitive factor, that became a non issue. This allowed for seized drug money to fund initial phases until budgeting could catch up and be directed toward the continued functioning of the unit. I see it as a great opportunity to move forward. Like most all other areas of the agencies advancement it will not be without trial and error. Also like other areas we do not arrive at the finish line overnight. It is a process of growth and expansion until we reach our goal which is a fully functioning and manned aviation unit that supports law enforcement operations within the county. I realize that the decision was unpopular with some and that the timing seemed bad. However, you take the opportunities as they come.
Dagger: The Sheriff’s Office faces a number of challenges in very different arenas. Which are of particular interest to you, and why?
Gahler: Violent crime, gangs, drugs, including the growing use of heroin, repeat offenders, and traffic safety are the most serious law enforcement issues facing Harford County. Intellectually these issues appear separate, but operationally they will be viewed as one and will remain the focus of my administration.
The answers and methods of addressing these threats to our safety and social harm are synonymous. A commitment to focus on that small group among our citizens who are responsible for the majority of the crimes, those few locations throughout the county where a measurable amount of crimes and crashes occur and to focus resources in those locations at times when particular crimes and crashes are committed will have a major and positive impact on the safety of our citizens and communities.
My commitment to safe communities begins with restoring positions in the patrol function 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. 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.
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 jail 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 law abiding citizens.
Ryan: One of the main issues is manpower. This means that for at least the near future we have to make due with what we have. My initial plan is to move toward precinct based operations. What this means is that the agency will be realigned. Personnel and resources will be allocated where they are most needed, at the precincts or directly under the precinct commander’s control. I will direct that commanders have the latitude to re-allocate these resources as and when they are needed. When coupled with real time information deputies can be directed to areas in advance of criminal activity or to crimes immediately after they have occurred.
I will direct my commanders to establish a system of command which is unified and flexible. Constant real time vetting of information coupled with flexible response options will allow us to move from being reactive (answering calls for service) toward being proactive (anticipating crime trends or hot spots). Gangs control drug traffic. In turn drug traffic and associated drug use is connected to the vast majority of all other non-domestic related crime. I will direct that we continue with our current special enforcement activities. Additionally, I will combine and coordinate these efforts with other operations. I believe we could be more aggressive with the enforcement of street level dealers. This could be done with current Specialized Units under the Command of the Precinct Commanders. Renewed efforts in this area will not only have an immediate impact on the lower level of drug sales and use but can be directed toward the upper level of the drug dealers food chain. I want to stay focused and realistic in my goals. Little can be accomplished without sufficient manpower and modern equipment and tactics. That is why I place these items high on my list. Also, I plan to use these things to complete the follow on objectives. Everyone knows that gangs and drugs go hand in hand. What most do not realize is that the majority of all crime is committed by only a small select portion of the criminal element. Again, drugs are a major component. By staying focused and addressing the core issues with a combination of special enforcement and coordinated patrol activities we will see real results. I will direct my commanders to develop effective stratagems to address these issues. I plan to work closely with the county administrators, the States Attorney’s Office and Annapolis to ensure we have a complete, realistic and effective full on approach.
Each of the Sheriff’s Office deputies understand their job and they know what has to be done to accomplish the task at hand. What they need is the required support and a efficient framework and command structure in which to operate. By restructuring and allowing for flexibility I will empower those commanders and deputies with the freedom required to tackle the difficult problems they face.
If elected I will use a multi pronged approach to combat crime while utilizing educational efforts and partnering with prosecutors and the courts to ensure that we address all aspects of the criminal and public safety issues that face our county. I have no doubt that we will be successful.
Dagger: What law enforcement issue or issues have residents of Harford County overlooked, or not yet fully understood?
Gahler: The incumbent’s decision to initiate an Aviation Unit within the Office of Sheriff was an act taken with a complete lack of transparency. This is an issue where residents do not have a complete understanding of its immediate and long term impact.
Maryland is home to one of the most premier helicopter programs in the world. This publicly funded, fully operational, aviation program operated by the Maryland State Police is always at the ready to serve all the jurisdictions of this state and, should their helicopters be committed elsewhere, coordinate sufficient “back up” services from other aviation programs to meet Harford County’s needs.
Sheriff Bane’s lack of openness on this issue gives me, as a taxpayer, great pause and as a candidate for Sheriff of Harford County great concern. By his own admission, Sheriff Bane had been looking at this program since 2010 and in all that time, failed the public by not including room for citizen’s input. The Sheriff held countless public appearances since 2010 and not once did he present any information on the project to the public until the unit was in-service.
I have made it clear in previous articles and postings that there are so many other challenges facing Harford County and the Sheriff’s Office that I would not have pursued a helicopter program as Sheriff. Some of those challenges are outlined in responses to these questions and there are several other pressing issues such as well-deserved and overdue pay raises for both our law enforcement and correctional deputies and civilian staff and maintaining acceptable staffing levels on patrol and in the Detention Center; each established priorities of my campaign platform
Now that the unit has been formed, I have committed to reviewing the program and ascertaining if the costs for the helicopter can be kept even close to the figure cited by the incumbent. To be clear, the incumbent has claimed the entire cost of this venture is being paid with asset forfeiture monies and therefore not costing the taxpayers anything. The fact is, personnel costs cannot be charged against forfeiture funds, so the hours and shifts spent by the 10 “part time” personnel assigned to the unit are already in conflict with the incumbent’s claims. In addition, I am not a supporter of forward funding projects with Asset Forfeiture monies. The goal of public safety should not be to seize a preordained amount of money needed to institute or continue a desired program. The goal must always be to target crime, arrest the offender and provide for a safe and secure environment.
Ryan: There are two areas where I believe that law enforcement has yet to fully realize the impact of associated issues or the potential available to them to affect future issues. The first area that is not fully accounted for and is becoming increasing apparent is the impact that mental illness has on criminal activity and eventually on inmate populations. By percentage a large portion of the Detention Centers population has at some point, some form of mental health issue. Additionally, individuals who suffer from mental health issues are in negative contact with law enforcement at an ever increasing rate. The Sheriff’s Office is a front runner in recognizing this and has some plans and procedures in place to deal with the problem. I plan to advance these current practices and seek funding for longer term strategies to address the problem and offer a counter to incarceration or arrest for persons in crisis. Arresting our way out of this problem is clearly not a viable or equitable solution.
I will also take a fresh look at what can be done to prevent crimes before they occur. This can be accomplished thru programs that direct criminal offenders away from future criminal activity and thru youth based programs that deter poor decisions based on peer pressure or other factors. Practically all criminals got their start while juveniles and it is in this area where we may alter their path. Technology is increasing at fantastic rates and more people including all youth are wedded to modern web based information. I believe that technology can benefit us in this arena. Thru the use of modern social media technology such as the Sheriff’s Office web page and Twitter account and other web based profiles we can reach a wide range of people with only a minimal impact on our personnel and budget. Today’s youth are intimately familiar computer based formats and I plan to examine this area as a way to reach out to them. This approach is modern and connects with them in a way that is on line with their generational thinking. Subsequently, we can also continue to keep the public appraised of current crime trends and active situations as well as offer information concerning programs that are available thru the county and other various means.