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Porter County Sheriff candidates Levi and Lain profiled

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Sheriff candidate David Lain profiled

 

Sheriff candidate Ralph Levi profiled

By KEVIN NEVERS

Republican Ralph Levi is basing his candidacy for Porter County Sheriff both on his experience as a former PCSP officer and on a critique of the administration of his opponent, Democrat incumbent David Lain.

Levi, 59 and a resident of Westchester Township, retired in 2008 with the rank of lieutenant after 33 years of service with the Porter County Sheriff’s Police. He currently works security for Boyd Gaming.

“I was a supervisor for 28 of those 33 years, mostly in the Patrol Division,” Levi says. “However, I did supervise Records. I was involved in the creation of the 911 Center. I was involved in the supervision of the Radio Room for awhile. I worked in the Civil Bureau for a short period of time. I worked in the Jail for a short period of time. I worked in the Detective Bureau for a short period of time. But Patrol was my favorite.”

In short, Levi says, “I know every job there. I know what they should be doing. I know how it should be done.”

Why Run?

When asked why he’s seeking election, Levi says this: “I think I can do it better than it’s being done now.”

“I don’t think there are people there right now who understand some of the things that should be done,” Levi also says. “And I think it needs to be improved over all.”

“Some of the supervisors are more interested in their title than they are in the benefit of the department,” Levi adds. “And I’m not happy with the way it’s gone in the last four years.”

“I just think it’s a personal pride thing,” Levi says. “It just isn’t there.”

Differentiate Yourself

from Your Opponent

When asked to differentiate himself from his opponent, Levi says that he was a career Porter County Sheriff’s Police officer and that Lain is not.

“I’ve always been at the Sheriff’s Department,” Levi says. “He was a city policeman. He came in as a political appointment. He never worked there. He didn’t know what the procedures are. I’m not sure he still knows what the procedures are. I worked my whole life. I don’t care what job you put me in, I could do it. I could do it well. I know how it should be done. I didn’t have to ask somebody. And I think I can still do it better than he can do it.”

“I think I care more about what’s going on,” Levi adds. “I think you’ll see me more often. Nobody’s going to have to make 10 calls to get me. It won’t happen. My number’s in the book. It’s always been in the book. It’s under my wife’s name now. I’m not hard to find.”

The Issues

For Levi the issues of the race concern Lain’s management of the Porter County Sheriff’s Police.

Morale in the PCSP is low, Levi says. “If you’re not confident in your leader, you’re not going to do your best work, because you’re so afraid they’re watching you. . . . And that’s what’s going on. I’ll let the cops do what they’re trained to do. I don’t have to hold them under my thumb. . . . They’re professionals. They know what they’re doing. Let them do their work.”

There is a disproportionately high number of supervisors in the Porter County Sheriff’s Police, Levi says. “I think the Patrol’s schedule is a mess. I think you’re top heavy again. We’ve got people in the office now that some of them, I don’t know what they’re doing. I have no idea what they’re doing.” More officers “absolutely” need to put on the road,” he adds. “Not so much on the highways. Let’s get them on the county roads.”

Response times are slow and residents aren’t getting call-backs from the Porter County Sheriff’s Police, Levi says. “I don’t think citizens should be calling up to 10 times to get a return call. That’s happened frequently. I had a gentleman complain about that yesterday. Ten phone calls to get someone to call him back. . . . (And) I think things are going slower than they should be. I think we can speed it up. I’m not saying they’re doing sloppy work. I’m saying that response times and return calls follow-up are slower because there’s not a sense of pride there should be and I think we can bring that back.”

Lain’s claim that the crime rate has dropped in Porter County under his administration is dubious, Levi says. “You’ll hear him say the crime rate’s going down. The crime rate can be manipulated and I’m almost certain it has been” in the filing of Uniform Crime Reports with the FBI. “If I classify a theft with no suspects as a vandalism, then there’s no crime” to be reported to the FBI. “I’m absolutely certain that’s going on. It’s not that hard to do. And again we’re not being honest with the public.” Levi did not offer any specific evidence in corroboration of his allegation.

The third pod of the jail, currently not in use, is not actually usable because it’s been cannibalized for parts, Levi says. “He’s been borrowing parts out of the third pod of the jail. If something’s broken in the other two, he goes and gets it out of the third one, puts it in there, and throws the other one away. So now we have one-third of the new Jail that can’t be used because they can’t lock it. They can’t put anyone in there. They have exposed wiring, plumbing ripped out.”

And funds earmarked for the upkeep of the Jail—roughly $400,000 annually, from the per diem paid by the state and the feds for housing their prisoners there—have disappeared, Levi says. “Now he wants money to fix (the Jail) up because he was ‘saving us money’ by taking those parts out of there. What did you do with the $400,000? I will grant you (the upkeep fund) goes up and down per year (because the number of state and federal prisoners fluctuates). But what did you do with the money for repairs? Where did it go?”

In general, Levi says, Lain has mismanaged moneys. “He’s got more money than he needs right now. He can’t keep track of it, he’s got so much money. There are different funds he controls. Nobody knows what’s in them.” Levi adds, “I think I can do it better than it’s being done now. I think we’re spending too much money. We don’t even know where the money is. . . . It’s the biggest budget in the county. Let’s have someone with an accounting degree or some accounting experience running your budget. I would like to hire an accountant to handle the budget.”

Finally, Levi says, Lain has provided departmental vehicles to “friend and part-time employees who don’t even qualify for health insurance.” At issue: police officers’ entitlement to take-home vehicles is not considered a taxable benefit by the Internal Revenue Service, while non-police officers’ use of take-home vehicles is considered a taxable benefit which must be reported and Levi says was not. In a report, Levi says, the IRS called the practice “misleading and less than truthful.”

Initiatives If Elected

With respect to the drug problem, Levi says, “I will do whatever I have to do, I will spend whatever money, I’ll assign people, to get on the drug problem. I’m not happy with the (Porter County Drug Task Force). It’s not really under the Sheriff’s control. It’s the Prosecutor’s (Drug Task Force). I worked it for three years but things have changed. If you want to get tough on drugs, then go back to what we had. ‘You sell drugs in Porter County, you go to prison. We do not plea-bargain you. You go to prison.’”

Levi says that, if elected, he would “absolutely” talk to the Porter County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office about reducing the number of plea bargains. “I think we need to get tougher.”

On the subject of gang activity in Porter County, Levi says that the two officers whom Lain assigned to the Gang Task Force spent only a short time with the Chicago Police Department. “Maybe a week or two. I don’t think that’s enough time to understand it.” Levi himself would send Gang Task Force officers to Gary to familiarize themselves with gang activity. “What a better place to learn?”

Levi would also like to put jailers on a 12-hour schedule. “I think it can work. I think we can have happier people. I think we can stop the turnover rate. . . . There are people over there who aren’t happy. . . . There’s potential for a problem. . . . If your attitude is bad, your work habits are going to be bad.”

In addition, to fight contractor fraud, Levi would like to start a program under which residents about to sign with a home-improvement contractor can call the Porter County Sheriff’s Police and request an officer to come to their homes and take the contractor’s personal information. “I don’t think the building trades people would object to that at all. Just the contractor’s driver’s license and contact information, so if there’s a problem in the future the contractor can be found again. I think an upstanding business person would say ‘fine.’”

Chief Deputy?

Levi says that he has not yet thought about whom he might appoint to the position of Chief Deputy.

Last Thought

The Office of Porter County Sheriff is “the best job there ever was in the world, if you ask me,” Levi says. “And I think the people that are there just need to be excited and I don’t think the higher brass there now is exciting them.”

 

 Sheriff candidate David Lain profiled

By KEVIN NEVERS

Porter County Sheriff David Lain is basing his candidacy for re-election on his accomplishments in office, including a drop in the crime rate, his public outreach, and several new and ongoing initiatives.

Lain, 56 and a resident of Valparaiso, served 22 years with the Valparaiso PD—much of that time as a patrol supervisor—before leaving with the rank of lieutenant when tapped to serve as former sheriff Dave Reynolds’ chief deputy.

Under his own administration, Lain says, Porter County’s crime rate has dropped 13 percent while last year arrests increased 24 percent. “We crippled the Invaders Motorcycle Gang last year. We had some very significant heroin rings broken up a couple of years ago. So there’s great police work going on.”

“But we absolutely have to partner with the community because that’s where we can get the information we need to bring these people to justice,” Lain adds, and here he says he’s made a point of “steering” the PCSP in the direction “of fairness, accountability, responsiveness, and connectivity.”

“I make the point all the time about having buy-in from the people that we serve,” Lain says. “The more that the residents of Porter County understand what we’re trying to do, the better they know us not only as a department but as individuals and the better we can know them through this community outreach. It gives them the trust in their Sheriff’s Department. It’s given them the sense that they’re included in public safety.”

Lain points to his administration’s accomplishments. “The single largest social ill we face not only in the county but in the country is substance abuse,” he says, so he increased the number of his officers detached to the Porter County Drug Task Force—now two—while he also detached an officer to the DEA.

Lain is also seeking to include Porter County in the Lake County High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area or HIDTA, which would mean “additional resources for the problem: money, manpower.”

Among his other initiatives Lain counts the creation of the “Flex Team,” a flying squad of officers “that can respond to hot spots.” Originally tasked with traffic enforcement, the Flex Team—whose members work flexible schedules and are available for duty around the clock—now works warrant service and does extra burglary patrols, responding “to any area that shows up as a blip on activities.”

In conjunction with local police chiefs, Lain has created as well a Gang Task Force and sent two of his officers to Chicago for specialized training. “We’ve seen some tagging, some indications that there are at least wannabes in the area. And the best response is preemption. I think we’re a little ahead of the curve.”

Lain is especially proud of his ability to “engineer” the first increase in manpower on the PCSP “for a decade.” Only two officers but “two is better than none,” he says. “And we were able to do that without affecting the General Fund. These days it’s all about creative financing. We were able to do that with some fees the Sheriff’s Department charges for civil process.”

Why Run Again?

When asked why he’s seeking re-election, Lain says this: “I’ve really enjoyed steering this department into what I think has been a very productive and effective force of people. I think, selfishly, I plan on staying here in Porter County for the foreseeable future, and as a resident I have a stake in how effective the public safety is in our region. Part of my motivation is I want to continue to live in a safe community. And there’s always more to do. We started a lot of things.”

Differentiate Yourself

from Your Opponent

When asked to differentiate himself from his opponent, Republican Ralph Levi, Lain says that he finds Levi’s campaign motto—“Experience for a Change”—“curious.”

“First of all, he hasn’t been a police officer in a few years,” Lain says. “He retired. And he had the experience of being a lieutenant in the Sheriff’s Department and it was the pinnacle of his career. That was the pinnacle of my career at my last department. I’ve since gone on to be a chief and an elected sheriff. Experience. I’m not sure how he’s seeing that as his strong point. And as for change, I’m very happy with what we’ve been able to accomplish.”

The Issues

For Lain the “No. 1” issue of the race is substance abuse because “its tentacles reach out to so many other areas: family, economic.”

And then there’s traffic. “Traffic is still a huge concern and it’s going to get worse” as Porter County’s population grows. So we have to make sure our Patrol Division responds. It’s a balancing act. It’s how you deploy your resources. . . . The problem is, we’ve got over 1,000 miles of road in Porter County. And we can’t be everywhere at that same time. But that’s where the buy-in comes in.”

Lain says that, when the PCSP receives a traffic complaint, he assigns special patrols and has even had officers walk the neighborhood. Lain has also created the “Report a Violator Program,” in which folks are urged to send a scofflaw’s license number and the date, time, and location to the PCSP. “And I’ll send (the scofflaw) a personal letter. It’s not as satisfying as seeing that person get a traffic ticket but it lets them know that somebody’s paying attention and that we care.”

Lain Responds to Levi

To Levi’s critiques of his administration, Lain makes the following responses.

On “low morale” in the PCSP: “It almost sounds hackneyed. My accomplishments are really based a lot on what the men and women in my department do. They work hard every day, every night, and they make me look good.”

On a “disproportionately high number” of supervisors: “I disagree. As far as being top heavy, the last time I looked at the numbers, when I was Chief Deputy, we actually had a lower percentage of supervisory staff than there was” in the administration previous to former sheriff Dave Reynolds’. “Just because someone’s a supervisor doesn’t mean he’s not out there being a police officer. (Levi’s) using the argument that has been used historically when you’re not sure what else to use. . . . But it’s a big department and there are administrative necessities.”

On “slow” slow response times and follow-up: “I’m not sure where he’s coming from with this. Some of what might be happening is that when someone calls the (PCSP) they’re not really talking to the (PCSP). They’re talking to 911. A separate issue. And we’ve actually had discussions with the 911 staff. ‘You don’t make the call. Somebody needs to let us know and we’ll get back to them.’ . . . I won’t say there’s a 100-percent call-back because I can’t even get back to everybody who calls my phone. But as a corporate entity we do respond as quickly and as efficiently as possible.”

On the “manipulation” of crime statistics: “I know departments that have played fast and loose that way. I’m a firm believer in what is, is. We send in our reports every month. And it’s just not true. We’re accurate in what we report.”

On the “unusability” of Jail’s third pod: “If we’re not using something over there, it’s silly to let it degrade. . . . The lion’s share of what we’ve taken out of there is technology. Video visitation is a big part of the technology in the jail. And those monitors are eight years old. The reported life span for video equipment is seven years.” Lain adds that it would take only $30,000 and—depending on parts availability—“a week or two” to make the Jail’s third pod usable.

On the “disappearance” of Jail upkeep funds: In fact that fund—the 217 Fund—totals more than $400,000, Lain says. “It’s probably closer to $1 million.” Of that the PCSP gets around 60 percent, the Commissioners the other 40 percent. And the 217 Fund is used only “in part” for jail upkeep but mostly for feeding the prisoners. This year’s food budget was around $350,000, Lain says, “and we’ve got a buffer now of around $300,000” in the 217 Fund. “It hasn’t evaporated. We know where it is.”

On his “mismanagement of moneys”: “All those funds are well accounted for. From day to day, I don’t know what’s in each one. We’re in the process of skimping, saving, and we use significant amounts from those auxiliary funds to supplement what had been a General Fund item the year before.” Lain adds, “I’ve said it to everybody on the County Council: ‘Anytime you want to come in, come on over.’ All they have to do is walk over to the Auditor’s Office.”

On take-home vehicles for “friends and part-time employees”: “The IRS contends (that the take-home individuals) are not officers” but “I have given them special deputy commissions. And if you read Indiana statute, that says they’re police officers.” Lain adds that one of the individuals, the 911 Center Director, should have a vehicle. “If something breaks in the 911 system, it’s absolutely imperative that he has a reliable car” in order to respond. The other individuals are process servers, who only drive the take-home vehicles home and may not use them off-duty. “It’s so much more efficient if they can start delivering papers” first thing in the morning.

Last Thought

When a new officer joins the PCSP, Lain always tells him or her, “‘When you’ve lost that fire in the belly, it’s time maybe to think about a new career.’”

“I haven’t lost that,” Lain says.

 

 

Posted 10/22/2010

 

 

 

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