JEROME | Like the sheriff’s race in Twin Falls, the one in Jerome pits a two-term incumbent against a former police officer who wants to get back into law enforcement.
Sheriff Doug McFall first won election in 2008 and again in 2012. He was undecided whether to run for a third term until just recently, when he figured he ought to finish what he started with the new jail.
“I had not made up my mind up until about (February),” McFall said last month. “But with everything going on with the new jail, there are loose ends I wanted to tie up. I wanted to make sure it was done right.”
Jerome County voters passed an $11.2 million bond in 2013 to get the jail built after rejecting four previous proposals.
“After working so hard, I would like to reap the benefits” of the new jail, McFall said. He said the new facility will eradicate overcrowding issues, reduce the county’s risk of being sued and help bring in money by selling open beds to other counties and agencies that need a place to jail their inmates.
McFall’s challenger, Jon Lenker, knows all about county jails after working 3 ½ years as a detention deputy in Lake County, Fla. — population nearly 300,000 — and as a detention deputy for six months with the Jerome County Sheriff’s Office. He followed that with 14 years as a school resource officer and patrolman with the Jerome Police Department before resigning over what he called “internal issues” he wasn’t happy with.
“The old jail was just awful, so I was behind the sheriff in getting the new jail built,” Lenker said. “What I didn’t agree with was, why put the extra money into building the sheriff’s office attached to it when you still have a viable building at the courthouse that would accommodate the rest of the sheriff’s office needs?”
Other problems Lenker sees within the office include what he called the “Idaho State Police mindset” and structure McFall has established after spending 24 years as an ISP trooper.
“We’re losing touch with a lot of farmers,” Lenker said. “We have to get back to community service-oriented policing … You need a sheriff that’s willing to be out with his guys and girls on patrol.”
For his part, McFall believes he already is a visible sheriff that patrols when he needs to. He said he’s faced criticism for driving his county patrol vehicle on nights and weekends, but that the size of Jerome County means he’s always on call.
“This is not a 4- hour-a-week job,” McFall said. “I love it. I love getting out on the road and working the road. I probably should be in the office taking care of administrative stuff, but I hear a call and it’s real hard for me not to say, ‘eh, this will wait, I’m going.’”
Both candidates want to expand the office. McFall said his office is fully staffed now but the schedule gets tricky when someone goes on vacation or gets sick. He has 10 patrol deputies and two sergeants but wants to expand to 12 and four.
“There’s a large amount of land out in the county,” Lenker said. “Eventually we’re going to have to grow.”
As for immediate changes, Lenker said there would be a slight restructuring of personnel to make sure he’s getting the most patrol time out of his employees. Lenker also said he’ll work the budget so that “line items are more in line with the final budget.”
McFall said his budget is in good shape and will get even better once the new jail starts housing out-of-town inmates. He said there are negotiations in the works to house inmates from Lincoln County and those being held by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He also said the Idaho Department of Correction wants as many beds as the county has available and a 30-bed contract is in the works.
“That jail is certainly never going to be a profit-making machine,” McFall said. “But I think by keeping the beds full at this point, that instead of paying out to other counties to house our inmates, we’ll get a cash flow coming in.”
Both candidates said drug abuse is the biggest problem facing the county, along with the crimes that come with it.