To start with, why don’t we run through your background and experience?
My name is Roger Brown, candidate for Knox County Sheriff. I was born and raised in Mount Vernon, Ohio. I graduated from Mount Vernon High School and Knox County Career Center. I have been married to my wife, Lisa, the last 20 years; we have an 11-year-old son, Lucas.
I started my career at the sheriff’s office in 1993 as a special deputy. I volunteered until about October of 1993 when I was hired full time in the jail division. I worked the next 2 1/2 years in the jail division and became state-certified in corrections. In 1996, I left the jail division and was with the patrol division the next 11 1/2 years. While in the patrol division I became certified in Computerized Voice Stress Analysis (2005). It’s pretty much the same or close to the polygraph test. With that I conducted pre-employment interviews with prospective employees of the sheriff’s office. I also conducted CVSA examinations on them and reported back to the administration with my findings.
In 1999, still while I was at the sheriff’s department, I purchased, and owned and operated a small business in this county, ran it until 2003. An electric motor service business, which was on the south side of the county. I handled the day-to-day operations of the business, I managed the budget, I hired and fired, and disciplined employees.
I continued on in the patrol division until it was 2007 when I was transferred to the detective division. For over the last four years I was a detective there at the sheriff’s office and was later promoted to detective sergeant. As of December this last year, I was required to resign from my position at the sheriff’s office. My understanding, according to their legal opinion, I was a classified employee because I was in the union; I was a sergeant in the detective division. My opponent actually got to keep his job because he is not in the union.
As a detective, part of my duties are to assist the day-to-day operations of the sheriff’s office, assist the patrol division, assist in the detective division and also any issues arising in the jail division. I investigated every major crime in this county, anywhere from a bad check to a homicide. I got convictions in all kinds of criminal cases. That’s pretty much the background of me.
Also, while I was a detective, I managed the evidence room at the sheriff’s office, I also managed 130 sex offenders we had at the office. At the time I was also in charge of conducting background checks for concealed carry permit holders.
If you can express briefly, why are you running for sheriff?
At this point I am the most qualified, most experienced candidate to be the next sheriff of this county. I’ve got 18 years in at the sheriff’s office. I have gathered and gained more experience in the last 18 years than a lot of officers do when retiring at 30 years.
What sets you apart from your opponent?
Experience does set me apart from my opponent. Again, as I touched on some of the things that I have done at the sheriff’s office I have worked in pretty much every division of the sheriff’s office, so leading the sheriff’s office, it is my opinion that if you’re going to lead and direct the sheriff’s office, you should have experience in all areas of the sheriff’s office, not just overseeing the office.
The sheriff’s office and jail have the largest budget in the county. What can be done to contain spending?
Let’s start with the patrol division. One of my goals for the future at the sheriff’s office is to have my patrol division begin to conduct investigations instead of forwarding investigations (felony investigations) to the detective division. If they start investigating some of their own cases we’ll have some less overtime issues, that’s a start with that. And my detectives can do more of what is most critical right now in this county, and that is drug investigations, which is causing a lot of issues we’re having here.
Other budgetary issues are ways of saving and helping the budget. I will be a working sheriff and my captain will be working. We will not just administrate from the office, we will do day-to-day operations of the sheriff’s office. If we have to do a transport for the jail, if we have to go out on the road, if we have to assist the detective division in investigations we will do those three things. I also will have a plan to enhance our special deputies unit. It is a volunteer unit; they are required to volunteer 16 hours a month just to keep their commission. I am now, because I have lost my job and am required to keep my commission, I volunteer now for the village of Fredericktown, at no charge to them. The special deputies, again, are required to keep up their time to keep their commission. They can assist in the day-to-day operations of the sheriff’s office.
You mentioned having the patrol officers begin doing some investigations. Wouldn’t that result in the deputies not having enough time to do their regular patrol duties, or is their some point where they would hand off the case to a detective if need be?
No, I don’t think so. A patrol officer has eight hours a day, as well as a detective has eight hours a day. The example I’ll give you is, if you have 20 patrol officers, and they are handing off all these felony cases to your detective division, some do work their own cases, not all of them, but some do. I believe that if you have a detective sitting in his office with 10 cases on his desk, he’s got to prioritize on what cases he handles. So there’s really no difference in the patrol guy handling a case when he gets time in between calls or anything else to make follow-up phone calls, stop somewhere and do a quick interview and things like that, so I do not think it will affect the patrol of this county.
What qualifications do you have as far as union negotiations?
I have never negotiated anything to do with the union. We are able to pick or, at least vote on, who wants to be a union steward or whatever. I’ve never had an interest in doing that.
You haven’t been involved in negotiations from either side then?
The only thing I have done, obviously, is give opinions on what I think needs to be in the negotiations and what doesn’t, that’s correct.
Just to follow up on that a little bit, even though I haven’t been in those negotiations, you understand a lot of those negotiations also affect the county budget. They’re negotiating with the sheriff and obviously they’re wanting money, wanting benefits and things like that, so it’s a double-edged sword.
I think the intent is as much to say about having dealt with the process of negotiations as much as whether or not you’re represented on one side or the other, because obviously negotiating deals like that is almost a challenge in itself.
Well, again I believe I do have some experience that will be necessary, because, again, for the last 18 years I’ve done nothing but deal with people in law enforcement and you can look at my conviction rate. I’ve gotten people to ... cooperate and get people to admit to me to murdering someone or stealing or doing this or doing that, so if you’re talking about ... am I able to communicate with people? I think I’ve got a proven record in all my convictions that I can communicate with people. Not only that, but as a business owner in this county, again, it’s all about communications, and I can certainly communicate.
Do you have a plan for tackling or trying to clear “cold” cases?
I do. Again, part of that is going to take freeing up my detectives. That’s huge, again because when they’re juggling numerous cases they prioritize. But again, it goes back to the patrol division investigating some of the burglaries and some of the felony thefts and some other things that they can do. They’re trained, they just need a little bit more advanced training, maybe on some interviews and stuff like that. But that’s certainly going to free up my detectives to do some of that. When you say cold cases, you want to give me a reference, give me an idea ...?
I’m not as familiar with all the cases around here, but there is usually several of them. I know there’s one, a woman that was murdered out in the southeastern part of the county.
I believe you’re talking about the Laura Heaton Mills case from either 1986 or 1987, which is a cold case; Jean Davis’ homicide ...
Jean Davis is the one I’ve heard of.
Jean Davis’ homicide was Dec. 20, 2009. I led that investigation just 18 days shy of two years when I had to leave. That is not a cold case, in my opinion, that case was turned over to two very capable and very experienced detectives who are working it now. Obviously, that’s the two homicides that I’m aware of that are outstanding, unless there’s something back years and years ago. BCI came up with a program a year or so ago to where they are now assisting in cold case investigations. I certainly will open up the Laura Heaton Mills case and get that pointed in the right direction so we can at least get some focus back onto that case. A lot of it, Chuck, is you’re limited to a certain amount of guys and things in this county, as I spoke of, have been very difficult in the last four years, for the manpower we have at this sheriff’s office, the limited number of people to do these investigations. So we are going to have to go outside and look at other resources to help and BCI is free, so they are certainly willing to help out.
Most departments I’m familiar with always have, it seems like, two or three cases, they just can’t get over that point.
I’ll go back to that Jean Davis case. I do not believe that’s a cold case. Is it not solved? It’s not solved, but I can tell you that me and another detective were doing interviews the week of December, just prior to December when I left there. So that should give you an idea that the case is still active.
Is there an official definition of what constitutes a cold case?
I’m sure there is an official definition. When you’re, in my opinion, when you’re still getting leads, you’re still able to do follow-up, things like that, to me it’s not a cold case. And I do not believe Jean’s is.
There’s not a point where you say, “we’ve done all we can,” we just have to hope something breaks?
Again, it goes back to whether you’re getting leads or anything like that. Was there some dry spells in the middle of that investigation? There was. There was sometimes you didn’t hear anything from anybody for a month, but then the next month you’re getting two or three tips. And, you know, compare that to the Laura Heaton Mills case where you haven’t heard about it for years. No tips. No nothing.
We have heard complaints that deputies/detectives do not always dust for prints when theft/burglary reports are taken, yet we have seen in some reports that it was done. Is that a flaw in the procedure that should be addressed?
Well, I’ll tell you. What you normally look for when you go into a residence or a business or anything else is items that can be, that you can obtain latent prints from. A lot of it depends on the item that you are wanting to print. If it’s not a good surface, if it’s not a good clean surface, if it’s a rough surface, the deputies take into consideration whether or not something can be printed there. And there is a lot of officers that do take fingerprints, and every one of them evaluate the scene when they walk in. Is that something I would want my officers, every place they go in, to just throw around dust and mess up your whole house? No. That’s one thing I don’t believe is appropriate. I believe the officer needs to be up front with the person and explain to them, educate them on why they’re not taking prints. I used to get the same calls as a detective, why did your deputy not do fingerprints? I discussed it with them. Sometimes I went to the scene and looked at what they had, and explain to them why. There’s a communication problem there, Chuck. You can’t dust for prints in every situation.
Our current sheriff is not always available to the public or media. What is your philosophy regarding an open dialogue with your constituency?
One of my goals, one of my focuses for the sheriff’s office, Chuck, is to have, obviously, a public information officer. As of right now the sheriff does a majority of it; to be honest with you, done all of it, until the election process, my opponent has made the paper quite often in the recent few days and weeks. We will have a public information officer if the sheriff’s not available and the captain’s not available, somebody will be available to answer those questions. We have a communications problem out there, not only with you as the media, we have a communication problem with the public and also with local law enforcement. We need to rebuild and restrengthen that communication issue. We will, in my opinion, solve a lot more crimes if we are open and freer with some information. You’re not going to get everything, I mean there’s certain bits and pieces of information that can make or break a case, but there certainly will be an open dialogue.
Why should people vote for you?
Well, Chuck, I’ll tell you. If you’ve got, if you go to the voting booth, all I want people to think about is, who has the most experience to lead 55-plus people at the sheriff’s office. Who has investigated homicides? Who has investigated pretty much the majority of cases you can think of that has come across your newspaper in this county? I have the experience in those areas. I have investigative experience. I’m the only candidate to have investigative experience. I am the only candidate who has stayed certified in corrections. Most people don’t think a lot about that, but here’s the thing. The jail’s budget is over $2 million. You better know what’s going on in the jail division. I have experience in the patrol division. So I pretty much have experience all throughout the sheriff’s office. So I do believe that the leader needs to, or the person who is going to lead the sheriff’s office needs to have that experience, because at some point you’re going to have an employee come to you — and we’ve got a lot of great guys out there, a lot of competent guys — somebody’s going to come to you one day and say, “how do I handle this?” or “what do I do with that?” Well, I’ve been there, I’ve done that. So, experience is the biggest thing. Obviously my opponent has 24 years of experience, I have 18, but if you look at my record, if you Google me, whatever you want to do, you’re going to find out that I have a pretty good track record of convictions in this county, and again, owning my own business, I have management experience, so it’s all about experience in this race. We’re both eligible, there’s no question about us being eligible, but who does Knox County want to lead the sheriff’s office when we have another major event like we had in the past November? I have that experience in all aspects of it. Not that we want that to happen, but you and I both know that crime’s here to stay and we need to try to fight it as much as possible.
What other issues do you see as important in this race or that you would like to address?
Another thing I’d like to address that we didn’t speak on is the Crime Stoppers Program in this county. As of right now we have to utilize the Crime Stoppers Program out of Licking County. They have done a good job for us but we don’t technically control that here. We have to use them. I do believe we need a Crime Stoppers Program. I do believe we can get the individuals of this county, and also businesses of this county, to donate money. And we can control it. We can communicate with the media and when the media calls and asks what’s going on with Jean Davis case, or what’s going on with this case, you guys are going to know it because you’re going to be directly involved with helping the sheriff’s office with the communications of that. So it’s going to be a big vicious circle, but it needs to be done. And again, I think we’ll solve more crimes with that. I also will re-implement our Neighborhood Watch program. We used to have a nice, decent program throughout the county. We had one employee that took care of that. Obviously, due to budgeting and funding, we no longer have a community relations officer to take care of that. That will be the sheriff’s responsibility and the captain’s responsibility and even could go as far as our public information officer.
The problem in this county, we’ve got a lot of crime here. We’ve got a lot of drug issues, we’ve got a lot of thefts and burglaries. And if we don’t get the public involved again, it’s going to be very difficult to combat a lot of these things that are going on. The public — we have to have their help. When you have two to three patrol guys in 525 square miles, it’s very difficult for them to see everything or be able to solve a lot of these crimes. If the public would just be involved, you know we have crime tip lines, they can be anonymous. Educate the public on you don’t have to worry about going to court, or this or that, every time you want to call in a tip, a suspicious vehicle, whatever. But we need that involvement in order to combat some of this crime in this county.