Coffee with the Candidates: Chief Bill Thompson for St. Joseph Co. sheriff
Two weeks from now, we will know who the Democratic candidate for St. Joseph County sheriff will be.
It's been a horse race among three strong candidates who I sat down with when I had "Coffee with the Candidates."
We've heard from Metro Homicide Commander Tim Corbett, St. Joseph County Police Lt. Bill Redman and I most recently sat down with St. Joseph County Asst. Chief Bill Thompson.
We discussed the same issues with all candidates:
Maureen: Why do you want to be sheriff.
Chief Bill Thompson answered, " For anyone who has been in policing for any amount of time, one of the things you want to do is have the greatest impact on the people you come into contact with. When you're a street officer, when you're doing investigative work, it's a little bit clearer because you are dealing directly with the public, you're directly providing service. As you go up through the ranks and get into administrative jobs, you find that it's a bit of a different kind of a service, and what we're able to do on some of the positions is kind of empower the people on the department so that they can provide the best service possible for the community at large. It's something that, if you're born to this type of work, and I've never been able to imagine myself doing anything than policing, it's something you aspire to, not because of title or authority but because of the ability to have your service to be the most impactful that it can be."
Maureen then asked him, "What challenges do you see a sheriff facing in this day and age?"
Chief Thompson responded, "It's changed over the last few years, in that the public has a slightly different opinion about policing now. Not so much of things that have happened here locally, but because of things that have happened in some places nationwide. And it's a profession that tends to get painted with a pretty broad brush. Making sure that our community trusts and understands us and making sure we are putting our resources toward keeping people safe. So the challenge, I think, for a lot of us in policing, no matter where you are, is not just making sure our communities trust us, that's an easy one to just throw out and say, but they need to trust for sure, they need to understand us and they need to recognize that this is our home too. I think sometimes folks lose track of that a little bit."
Maureen followed up by asking, "How do you get the community to trust?"
Thompson candidly answered, "The truth of the matter is the only way the folks are going to trust us is if they know us. There's a tendency in this business, and it's been our own fault, we start driving around in these cars with the windows up because we have three or four radios going, we have computers going, we've got radar we're looking at, cameras we're looking at, and there's all these things happening and we forget the world around that patrol car is the world we're supposed to be engaged with. So what I tell guys to do is, yeah, listen to the radio and pay attention to those things, but put your window down, listen to what's going on around you. i think we can have a really strong impact on that. I think we can have it fairly quickly."
Finally Maureen asked him, "Why should people vote for you for sheriff?"
Thompson responded, "Well there are a couple of reasons. I think I am the most qualified person for the job, not just in terms of doing it for a really long time, not just in terms of having some administrative experience, but I've also had the opportunity to see this job from almost every position from start to finish; working in the jail, working in dispatch with those 9-1-1 calls, dispatching cars in patrol work, in investigative work, in homicide, undercover drug enforcement work, some special units like SWAT. I've pursued some fairly challenging educational opportunities that have put me in a position to be someone that this community can trust to do what is a big and very important job."
Like the other candidates, Chief Thompson was also asked about whether teachers should be armed as part of school safety. His response was that a teacher's job is demanding enough without layering in the responsibility of having to train, carry and use a gun. He added that is the job of police, as is working with the schools to better identify people who might be a threat.
The winner of the Democratic race will be up against Republican Paul Jonas in the general election.
On Monday evening's newscast,