WARSAW — Questions submitted prior to the evening’s event were chosen to ask the four people vying for the Kosciusko County Sheriff Republican nomination Tuesday evening, April 17, at a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters, Kosciusko County Chamber of Commerce and a local media outlet.
Approximately 300 people filled the Warsaw Performing Arts Center to hear Sheriff William “Rocky” Goshert, Chris Rager, Kyle Dukes and Anthony “Tony” Ciriello respond to 12 questions as well as general information about each one and individual platforms. Amanda Landis and Jama Brown moderated the evening.
Each candidate was given two minutes to tell about themselves at the beginning and two minutes at the end to give a general presentation. Each candidate was given one minute to respond to each question.
Brown announced more than 65 questions were received from teachers, mental health professionals, law enforcement, attorneys, addiction counselors, pastors and the general public.
The questions focused on qualifications, handling mental health issues for inmates and officers, the opioid crisis, what educators can do to support a positive relationship between law enforcement and students, preventing and deterring drug activity in schools, plans for the jail ministry, the department’s future, why non law enforcement staff would want him as the next leader, advancement of the reserve officer program, patrolling of rural areas and quicker response times and top priorities while in office.
Working with mental health officials, implementation of rehabilitation programs, having officers in the schools, communication were key points made by all three candidates. All four were in agreement the jail ministry should continue and was needed.
School safety was one question asked of the candidates. Dukes noted the need for a solid game plan, much better than the School Guard app. “I like the idea of a trained policeman in our schools with marked police cars sitting in front of our schools,” said Dukes.
Ciriello noted while the schools have great plans already in place and officers in the schools, these plans need to be enhanced. “Keep a close eye on developments within our communities,” he said, adding there were 35 reports on the suspect in the Parkland school shooting, “that no one reacted to. We need to be watching for those tale tell signs on social media … .”
Goshert supported the School Guard app, noting it provides teachers with a tool to make decisions if they see a situation. “It allows every law enforcement officer to know what’s going on .. its an app that’s a tool we can make some decisions. It will tell you to run or barricade … .”
“I like an armed officer in every school,” said Rager, but he noted it comes down to money. You can have the safest school in the country if you pay for it … if we can build million dollar schools, we can pay somebody to protect our kids. If I buy new football uniforms every year I can afford to spend some of that money to protect my kids from an armed villain.”
Responding to the question regarding increase patrols in rural areas, Ciriello recalled his patrol days and it taking 45 minutes to an hour to respond to a call in the far northern eastern portion of the county or the far southern part of the county. “Everyone deserves the same protection as every one else and with today’s equipment – cellphones, computers in the vehicles – officers no longer need to return to the department to file reports. “This increases the response and is a service to the community.” Noting the officers now have an office in their vehicles, Ciriello jokingly stated an officer can sit along the side of the road and no one would know if he is running radar or typing reports. “They will not know the difference.”
Goshert stated response time is critical, with more than 30,000 calls a year, the officers are stretched thin on some days. “A sergeant handled 23 calls one day,” he noted adding the lag time to respond is a concern, however the county is the fifth largest county in the state. “While that is not an excuse, we do have officers in zones … it becomes a manpower situation.”
Rager stated he would like to see officers driving around in those communities who have no police departments. “The more times they are seen in a town the safer that town will be,” he said. He noted with today’s technology used by the department, officers can spend more time in rural areas, but like the sheriff noted there are times the manpower is stretched thin.
“Every year the volume goes up,” said Dukes who stressed why he feels it is crucial all law enforcement agencies work as a team. He suggested assigning one specific deputy to a township, such as Turkey Creek that has an increase in population each summer, to make an assessment of problems know the residences and concerns.
Following the forum many were heard commenting the candidates all did a good job in their responses. A few noted the candidates did not make it easy to decide who should be the next sheriff.
Warsaw Girl Scout Troop 10379 presented the colors and led the group in the Pledge of Allegiance prior to the start of the forum.