Doug Knight remembers several years ago when gangs tried to take claim to his business as their turf. He offered them a full refund to never return to Knight’s Action Park in Springfield, where he is general manager and part owner, but Knight says it was the presence of an off-duty Sangamon County Sheriff’s deputy that cleared the gang members out. Knight pays off-duty deputies to keep a watchful eye on the business while wearing their full police uniforms.
“This is my territory,” Knight says in defiance of gangs. “It only makes good sense when providing for public safety to use law enforcement, as opposed to some knucklehead off the street who doesn’t have the training or knowledge of the law.”
But Democratic sheriff candidate Jeff Regan says Sangamon County Sheriff Neil Williamson is showing “blatant disregard for the law” by not having such arrangements approved by the county board. Regan asserts that state law requires the sheriff, as the county’s “supervisor of safety,” to advise the county board of all private contracts utilizing sworn deputies.
“These deputies, while fine individuals, are working under no formal contract and without any county board oversight while utilizing taxpayer-paid vehicles, uniforms and service weapons,” Regan says. “This is not the individual deputies’ fault, but rather a glaring mismanagement of county taxpayer resources due to the total disregard of state law by the sheriff, who is leaving the county board completely out of the required process.”
Private businesses, schools, hospitals and other entities that use deputies for security or traffic management are supposed to pay the county rather than the deputies, Regan says, and the county then pays deputies.
Williamson dismisses Regan’s charge, saying Regan has misunderstood the law, which Williamson says only applies to deputies performing traffic management.
“It’s baloney,” Williamson says of Regan’s assertion. “He has totally misread and didn’t comprehend what the duties of supervisor of safety are for the county. This only has to do with traffic laws and has nothing to do with employment or off-duty deputies. Deputies who are working anywhere in the county have nothing to do with the powers and duties of the supervisor of safety. He’s accusing me of dereliction of duty.”
In the past, Regan has criticized Williamson as lacking “professional protocol” on the use of Tasers and other issues.
“This is getting to a point where now he just openly flaunts the law,” Regan says. “This is even more astounding when you consider the fact that he is our county’s chief law enforcement official. I guess this is simply indicative of someone who has had free reign for 16-plus years and no longer feels he has to be held accountable to the same laws he enforces.”
Williamson, who is in his fourth consecutive term as sheriff since his election in 1994, takes issue with what he calls Regan’s “negative and critical” approach.
“What’s the old saying, ‘If you’re looking for the sawdust in somebody else’s eye, you should take care of the plank in your own eye’?” Williamson says. “He hasn’t talked about what he’s going to do if elected. I take offense at him putting out negative things that are just wrong. I just wish he would stick to the issues. People know what I’ve done and what I’ll do. Talk about what you want to do instead of criticizing me.”
The sheriff’s office is the only contested countywide race in the Nov. 2 general election.
Contact Patrick Yeagle at email@example.com.