The race for sheriff in Twin Falls County pits two highly qualified candidates, two-term incumbent Tom Carter and challenger Cliff Katona, who recently retired after more than two decades with the Idaho State Police.
With that much experience, the deciding factor in this race isn’t who is the better cop – it’s who is the best administrator. For us, that’s Carter.
In his two terms, Carter has built a highly trained and well-oiled sheriff’s department, mostly by getting out of the way. He has surrounded himself with excellent managers. Carter sets the vision, and his managers execute.
Carter will be the first to admit he is seldom comfortable in the spotlight – something the Katona campaign has jumped on – but that doesn’t mean he isn’t working hard behind the scenes or thinking big-picture about the future of law and order in Twin Falls County. He’s sworn in officers from city police departments to erase jurisdictional issues, he’s controlled his budget while still ensuring continuing training and better equipment for his deputies, he’s placed resource officers in all county schools, and in his most recent term, he scored a major political victory by persuading commissioners to join the state’s public-worker retirement system, which will help recruit and retain top-notch deputies.
Katona’s campaign has hinged mostly on creating better public relations within the sheriff’s department. He wants to be a “visible” sheriff, for rural county residents to know their deputies and for children to get more involved in the sheriff’s department through an Explorer program. Those are all noble ideas. But we believe most residents don’t really care whether they know their county sheriff or deputies on a personal level – they just want them to show up quickly when there’s a problem.
To that end, Katona has proposed “substations” for deputies around the county – locations not necessarily staffed around the clock but places that would help make the sheriff’s department more visible in the community. Katona also wants to vastly expand the number of deputies on the road over time, but it’s clear he hasn’t thought out the details – especially how to pay for it.
It’s also clear that Katona’s leadership style would contrast sharply with Carter’s. That raises concerns that Katona’s heavy-handed methods might rile deputies who have grown accustomed to having the freedom to pursue their own new ideas under Carter’s more freewheeling helm.
Looking ahead, Carter says his next term will be as much about preventing crime as it is catching criminals. His department has developed a free self-defense training course for the public, adopted a new interagency records system that gives cops on the road real-time information from other departments, a scam-protection training program for senior citizens and a high-tech drone program that helps deputies spot marijuana grow operations and is being used in search-and-rescue scenarios and to assess crime scenes for deputies’ and the public’s safety.
Our endorsement for Carter comes with one major caveat: The sheriff must do more to cut down the number of lawsuits against his department, especially those involving harassment complaints within the ranks. A modern police force must see and treat men and women as equals – period – and it’s the sheriff’s job to lead by example.
It’s worth noting, however, that while the county has settled several lawsuits against the department, that doesn’t necessarily mean the sheriff’s department is guilty of anything. The county’s insurance provider routinely settles lawsuits to avoid costly legal proceedings regardless of the merits of the suits. Only one case against the department is headed for a jury trial, a sexual harassment complaint slated to play out in the courts in August.
Nevertheless, so many suits against the department doesn’t look good. In his next term, Carter must make crystal clear that his department fosters an environment of respect and professionalism.