A write-in candidate for Sangamon County sheriff is hoping to take advantage of an apparent split in the Republican Party that has two candidates competing for the post in the upcoming GOP primary.
“I think that there’s an opportunity for our campaign to take advantage of what’s going on in the Republican campaign with those two,” says Jeff Regan, who lost four years ago when he ran for the post, also as a write-in Democrat. “Somebody’s going to lose, and there’s going to be an unsatisfied part of that equation that I can take advantage of.”
Undersheriff Jack Campbell and Republican challenger Wes Barr have touted their experience and debated whether deputies should have college degrees, but there has been little talk of larger issues in the sheriff’s office. Those include multimillion-dollar legal tabs and a decrease in drunken-driving arrests since the department eliminated a DUI officer in 2012.
“I haven’t seen a plan from either one of them,” Regan says.
Regan says flatly that he would restore the department’s full-time DUI officer that Sheriff Neil Williamson said was eliminated due to a cutback in state funding. However, Regan notes that funding is still available for such officers from state and federal sources.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that I can do that,” Regan says.
Republican candidates haven’t talked much about lawsuits. The county has spent more than $2.3 million defending a pending lawsuit filed by the widow of A. Paul Carlock, a suspected pedophile who died in custody, one of three jail deaths that occurred in a span of less than three months in 2007. In addition, the county in 2011 paid $60,000 to settle a case brought by the family of Maurice Burris, who died one month after Carlock from a perforated ulcer that went untreated. The county’s legal tab for the Burris case was $300,000. The county is also being sued by the family of Patrick Burns, who died in 2010 after deputies deployed Tasers more than 20 times while arresting him.
Regan, who says that he has met with Carlock’s widow, says that the deaths and subsequent lawsuits point to a need for more training.
“The men and women of the Sangamon County sheriff’s office, both civilian and sworn, they thirst for training,” Regan says. “With training comes better morale. It’s not that we’re challenging them or saying they’re inept, it’s giving them the skills and training that makes them better.”
Regan also says that he supports equipping Tasers with cameras, an idea that Williamson has dismissed on the grounds that cameras don’t capture what precipitated deployment of the stun devices. Regan, however, points out that other law enforcement agencies, including Illinois State Police, use Tasers with cameras.
In the wake of his loss to Williamson four years ago, Regan faced criticism that he hadn’t worked hard enough in the weeks and months leading up to Election Day, squandering a chance to upset a sitting sheriff with such ammunition as a video that showed the incumbent walking past a deputy who was fast asleep in a chair in the sheriff’s office. Regan says the criticism was fair. He said he suffered from a lack of money, name recognition and a campaign apparatus.
“This time, it is so much different,” Regan said. “There’s already interest in my campaign. … When was the last time we had a Republican primary in the sheriff’s office? It’s a unique opportunity for a challenger to focus on a qualifications-based race.”
Regan, who got nearly 37 percent of the vote four years ago in his campaign against Williamson, has been interim director of the Illinois Capital Area Chapter of the American Red Cross since October. He needs 360 votes to appear on the fall general election ballot and says that he didn’t gather signatures himself on nominating petitions because tornadoes that hit central Illinois in November kept him busy with his Red Cross duties.
Regan began his law enforcement career as a public safety officer for Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport in 1983. He was a patrol officer and detective for the Urbana Police Department for five years before he was hired as an Illinois State Police trooper in 1990. He retired as a state police bureau chief in 2008 and also served in the Illinois Army National Guard, retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 2005. He has a master’s degree in political studies and is working on a doctorate in public administration at University of Illinois Springfield.
Contact Bruce Rushton at firstname.lastname@example.org.