Sheriff Lewis: ‘We need full community involvement’

Cover Lewis Q&A

When Hunter Nelms announced in 2006 that he would end what had evolved into a beleaguered tenure as Wicomico County sheriff, everyone seemed to already know that Mike Lewis would be the next man to hold that post.

Nelms, who had enjoyed 22-year tenure as the county’s top cop, had fallen victim to his oversight of the county’s Drill Academy for young criminals. A good idea that had wide community support in its development, the Drill Academy had spiraled into a scandal that had people wondering aloud whether the entire Sheriff’s Office should be disbanded in favor of a county police force.

Morale in the Sheriff’s Office was low; citizens had lost a measure of trust; it was a dark time.

Enter Mike Lewis.

A freshly retired sergeant with the Maryland State Police, he had been a leading member of the Pro-Active Criminal Enforcement Team. Lewis was Criminal Interdiction Expert and longtime instructor for the Maryland Police Training Commission.

Known for his abilities to detect vehicles hauling contraband, Lewis was directly responsible for the training and educating of all Maryland State Police personnel in the Criminal Interdiction Venue.

Lewis was elected sheriff in November 2006; he was re-elected to a third four-year term last November.

A well known trait of sheriff’s is his absolute self-confidence in any situation. He’s a leader who says what’s on his mind, can be witheringly direct and has an absolute commitment to going after the bad guys.

Q. You’re entering your ninth year as Wicomico County sheriff. Do you still enjoy the job?

A. I love my job.  Are there days I question myself as to why I chose to run for sheriff of Wicomico County? Absolutely!

However, I have a very unique opportunity to positively impact or influence the lives of so many citizens in this county, and with the team I’m blessed to work with at the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office, we are doing it, one life at a time.

The profession is more challenging today than ever before. When I came on the job in 1984, there was a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for the very difficult task of being a police officer.

Today, much of that respect, admiration and public trust has eroded, not necessarily because of misconduct or corruption by police officers, we have that in any profession, but there is a tremendous lack of leadership by the Attorney General of the United States who continues to blatantly politicize our Department of Justice.

His actions, both publicly and privately, have done nothing to quell the complex racial issues we face in our country and have done everything to inflame them.

At a decisive moment in history when our nation requires strong and unbiased voices from its senior law enforcement officials, our Attorney General has made it his personal mission to join other racial antagonists and politicize tragic events in this country.

Q. You have certainly changed the Sheriff’s Office. There’s a feeling in the community that it is far better organized and more professional than ever.

A. Having the opportunity to work with some outstanding leaders during my 22 years with the Maryland State Police, and recognizing very competent leadership within the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office, a smooth transition from the State Police to the Sheriff’s Office was under way.

I inherited an office that was structurally sound, organizationally proficient, but technologically challenged in providing the many core needs and services required of a full-service law enforcement agency.

Tasks with serving more than 100,000 citizens in Wicomico County, it was readily apparent that the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office had to evolve to maintain a high level of service that our citizens had come to expect.

When I announced my candidacy for Sheriff nearly nine years ago, deputies patrolled Wicomico County with no mobile data terminals, no in-car cameras, no patrol rifles, no patrol shotguns, no Tasers, no pursuit stop-sticks, and they lacked the many other law enforcement tools necessary to effectively combat 21st century crime.

Working very closely with command staff personnel, and listening to those working in the trenches, we worked tirelessly around the clock to make much needed changes. Some of those were small changes, but huge morale boosters for the deputies which better professionalized the agency.

Many deputies lacked uniformity in terms of ceremonial uniforms, campaign hats, patrol jackets, etc. Some of these changes required additional funding.  Utilizing drug forfeiture funds seized by drug traffickers within Wicomico County, we were able to purchase rifles, shotguns, radar units and patrol vehicles.

Using these same funds, we were able to fully renovate the Wicomico County Bookmobile into a full-service Mobile Command Center for all law enforcement and county operations while arming our deputies with essential tools for doing their jobs.

Today, because of the great working relationships we’ve enjoyed with our County Executive and the County Council men and women, I’m proud to say, our patrol deputies are equipped with some of the best equipment and technology in the industry.

However, due to fiscal constraints, our aging in-car cameras and mobile data terminals are almost obsolete.

We will continue to work closely with our newly elected County Executive and our County Council men and women to replace these essentials pieces of technology and continue to provide the most professional law enforcement services found anywhere in this country.

Q. The overall community has taken great strides in reducing crime levels. What can that be attributed to?

A. There are many factors which come into play in reducing, suppressing or disrupting crime levels in any jurisdiction.  Building a resilient community involves multiple sectors and engagement from each corner of our community.

We strive to harness the power of every individual through education, training, and volunteer services to make Wicomico County safer, stronger, and better prepared to respond to threats of terrorism, crime, public health issues and disasters of all kinds.

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Wicomico County has a myriad of law enforcement entities working collaboratively every day to reduce crime and to improve the quality of life for our residents.

The current working relationship between the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office and her allied agencies is at an historic high.  Despite this display of solidarity, the credit goes to those men and women in the trenches, those in the arena who are on the front lines every day making our communities a safer place to live.

While I fully understand the importance of leadership, and my administrative responsibilities as sheriff, I miss being out there every day eradicating my share of thugs preying on an innocent society.

Today, while violent crime has been dramatically reduced in Wicomico County, there remains an uptick in property crimes.

Until our economy turns around, we can expect this trend to continue. I’m optimistic that working closely with the Maryland State Police, the Salisbury Police, and other allied agencies in this county, we will continue to make it difficult for any criminal to practice his vocation in Wicomico County.

Q. Your office works closely with Salisbury City Police, and crime rates have been reduced there.

A. Immediately following Barbara Duncan’s appointment to chief of the Salisbury Police Department, a tidal-wave of unprecedented cooperation followed. Unlike her predecessor, Chief Duncan firmly believes we need each other to be successful at combating crime in the city.  Chief Duncan is the consummate professional who strives daily to ensure that the relationship between law enforcement and the communities we serve remain intact, making it critically important to future generations of those living here.

Q. What has happened to foster the obvious spirit of cooperation between the city department and the county office?

A. Chief Duncan recognizes the importance of collaboration.  She saw it firsthand in Mount Vernon (N.Y.), where she served honorably as its Chief of Police until her appointment as Chief of the Salisbury Police Department.  Her willingness to work with all law enforcement partners, including those at the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office, is a testament to her commitment to not only the City of Salisbury, but to Wicomico County as well.

Additionally, the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office is mandated by law to handle certain core services of law enforcement, not only in the county, but in the City of Salisbury.

Some of these services include, but aren’t limited to; service of all protective orders, service of all peace orders, service of all evictions, warrants services, criminal summonses, and we provide all School Resource Deputies to our middle and high schools.

We can always rely on the Salisbury Police Department to assist us in the execution of these services.

Q. You’ve taken a little bit of heat for your viewpoint on the 2nd Amendment.

A. The Second Amendment is pretty clear.

It’s unambiguously clear that our forefathers did not want government officials abusing their authority, trampling our constitution, and turning their backs on the people they should be serving.  Overstepping these boundaries has been a hallmark of this current presidential administration, that’s why our Second Amendment Right-to-Bear-Arms has been challenged more today than ever before.

From a public safety standpoint, I knew that any attempt to further disarm our law-abiding citizens could have catastrophic consequences for our community, let alone this country.

I couldn’t stand-down and remain silent when it was abundantly clear that these, nothing more than “feel good” proposals, ultimately signed into law by the O’Malley Administration, had done absolutely nothing more than impact law-abiding citizens, and undoubtedly made them future victims of those criminals who continue to steal, rob, rape and murder while holding an illegally obtained firearm to their neighbor’s head.

I firmly stand behind this belief!

Q. Are there gun-restriction laws that you would like to see implemented statewide?

A. We must continue to remove the guns from the hands of criminals while encouraging responsible gun ownership.

We need to strengthen criminal penalties for those convicted felons found committing a crime with a firearm.  We already have excellent gun laws on the books that carry serious penalties for those violating these laws.Until we have truth in sentencing, we will continue to re-arrest those criminals determined to be a menace to society.

Q. You are famous for your ability to identify cars that might be carrying contraband — and you’re practically legendary in police circles for knowing where in the car that contraband is hidden.

A.  I’ve been blessed to work with some very talented troopers and deputies over the years who have contributed to my success in criminal interdiction.

I’ve lived by the motto that all citizens of our country have a constitutional right against unlawful searches and seizures, and that includes criminals.

But, no criminal has a constitutional right to escape detection.

We live in a very mobile society where all criminals travel from Point “A” to Point “B” in the automobile. This, of course, makes them most vulnerable to a well-trained, well-versed police officer at the traffic stop.  If they’re bringing drugs into or through Wicomico County, we’re going after them.

Back in the early 1990s, Maryland had assumed the role as a major trans-shipment venue for the major Colombian drug cartels charged with smuggling large shipments of cocaine and heroin along the eastern seaboard.  Many individuals were tasked with ensuring these shipments reached their destination.

As a Maryland State Trooper, I was one of three troopers assigned to patrol U.S. Route 13 in an effort to disrupt and dismantle these dangerous organizations.

Consequently, we developed successful criminal profiles to detect these individuals as they entered into and traveled through the state of Maryland.

There was no formal training given back then, and very few troopers experienced measurable success.  I’m proud to say, the criminal profiles we developed are now customarily used throughout the nation in the apprehensions of terrorists, bombers, murder suspects, and have resulted in the seizures of millions of dollars in drugs and United States currency.

To ensure these multimillion-dollar shipments of cocaine and heroin reached their destination,  very sophisticated electronically controlled hidden compartments — traps — were installed in their motor vehicles.

Armed escorts provided these traffickers with unprecedented protection, and these compartmentalized vehicles proved to be extremely difficult to locate, let alone penetrate on the roadside.

Q. But you did, many times. Talk about that.

A. I located my first one on March 9, 1993.

It was a mild day, the sun was shining and we had already been out for seven hours, stopping many cars and looking for any signs of criminal activity.

Trooper First Class Eddie Plank was my backup on this afternoon. He was a five-year veteran of the State Police at that time.

We had stopped an older model, non-descript Cadillac on Route 13, just south of Dagsboro Road on the southbound side. The driver was from Portsmouth, Va., while the passenger was from Norfolk.

Displaying levels of nervousness commonly seen with criminal activity, we decided we’d search the vehicle.

The occupants had discouraged us from searching by showing us two traffic tickets they’d just received in Harrington (Del.) for the same equipment violations.

We were not deterred.

While Eddie closely watched both men, I commenced my search.

Minutes later, I would discover a hidden compartment fabricated behind the backseat containing 7.2 pounds of crack cocaine. Resting next to the crack cocaine was a fully loaded .45 caliber handgun, the same caliber weapon that would take Trooper Plank’s life just two years later, on the same stretch of highway.

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The trap door was on steel tracks and controlled with an electronic piston built behind the center armrest in the middle of the seatback.

A further, yet more extensive search, would reveal a second hidden compartment containing a stolen, fully loaded semi-automatic handgun in the dashboard next to the steering column, along with a Maryland ID card from Charles County.

We quickly learned that both men were convicted felons who had repeatedly been caught with drugs and guns.  They’d never been caught with more than a few grams.

This case would seal their fate. The driver would receive a 45-year sentence, while the passenger received a 25-year sentence.

After discovering hundreds of similar compartments in the years that followed, I continue to  provide consulting to law enforcement throughout the nation on how to locate and safely breach these well hidden drug vaults.

Q. You made the crucial traffic stop that uncovered the gasoline and supplies thefts that were occurring at the county landfill.

A. It all started with a visit to my home from a disgruntled employee of a large construction company here in Wicomico County.

He provided me limited information on suspects, vehicles, and the times of day he knew these crimes were occurring.

I met with detectives from the Wicomico Bureau of Investigation and we were working to devise a plan to start surveillance of the Wicomico County Landfill, the primary location for the bulk of these thefts.

We knew that county employees were involved.

Days later, and before any surveillance had been conducted, I had left a Pittsville community meeting and I was on a traffic stop on U.S. Route 50 westbound, just west of Forest Grove Road in Parsonsburg.  It was President’s Day, Feb. 18, 2008, at approximately 8:50 p.m.

While clearing this traffic stop, passing my location, I observed a vehicle matching the description of one given to me days earlier. The white, non-descript box-truck with distinctive cab lights, displaying Delaware tags, with no visible company name on this commercial motor-vehicle appeared to match the suspect-vehicle description.

Additionally, the vehicle was traveling slowly as if it had just entered the westbound lanes of Route 50.  I knew the suspect construction company was less than a mile away, and, based on informant information, I knew the fuel was being stolen during the early evening hours under the cover of darkness.

I believed this was likely the suspect vehicle and I stopped it for failing to display required identification as required by law and an equipment violation — a mutilated mud-flap.

During my roadside contact with the sole occupant and driver, I smelled the odor of diesel fuel coming from the vehicle.

The box truck had a large roll-up door locked tightly at the bottom.  I could only imagine what was in the back of this truck and I subsequently requested the driver to raise the door.

There in the back of this truck were five large rectangular-shaped external fuel tanks, each equipped with its own dispensing hose. These tanks were fastened to the wooden floor with bolts.

The driver, an employee of Lewis Sand & Gravel (no relation) was arrested and charged.  Based on his high level of cooperation, many more arrests were made, and tens of thousands of dollars in stolen property was recovered during the executions of multiple search warrants.

We learned that the thefts of thousands of gallons of diesel fuel had been occurring for over a year, and many of these thefts occurred during business hours with the assistance of county employees.

This case would certainly change the way Wicomico County did business in the future.

Q. Talk about the fine line between good police work and profiling.

A. Effective policing is nothing more than utilizing your training, knowledge and experience in recognizing criminal activity while on patrol.  And this experience includes your ability to recognize certain characteristics associated with criminal activity.

I tell police officers all the time that they are not compelled to ignore experiential factors when determining whether someone is or isn’t likely involved in criminal activity.

Some cops — and prosecutors — are terrified of the word “profiling.”

Criminally profiling your suspects during violator contact is common-sense and damn good police-work. Racially profiling a suspect or suspects is illegal and it’s wrong.

However, a lot of police officers are terrified in doing their jobs today because they fear lawsuits or allegations of racial-profiling.

I learned a long time ago, when you’re doing good police-work, and you’re arresting bad guys and removing them from the streets, there will always be allegations of racial-profiling.  Consequently, if your case is rock-solid, defense-counsel will oftentimes resort to playing that race card.

It’s the nature of the beast!

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Q. So, training is extra important?

A. What I have to do as Sheriff of Wicomico County and as a certified Law Enforcement Instructor through the Maryland Correctional and Police Training Commission is to make certain that our deputies, troopers and police officers are conducting their traffic stops legally, lawfully and constitutionally sound.

Ultimately, our courts, not special interests groups will decide if we’ve met that threshold.

Q. There seems to be some tension in communities everywhere about police use of force and race. What do you see going on in our community?

A. As many officers and police executives know from experience, we must balance the goals of law enforcement with the public’s safety (and their own) in any use of force situation, which requires an officer to make split-second decisions affecting our citizens in harm’s way, the safety of the suspect who is attempting to resist and flee, while risking many more lives than his or her own.

Excessive force, which is used to effectuate a seizure, if deemed unreasonable, is considered to be a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

In determining whether the use of force is appropriate, courts look to balance the particular intrusion of rights against the governmental interest being advanced. This reasonableness standard acknowledges that an officer often must act on limited knowledge in emergencies or urgent circumstances that do not permit lengthy discussion or deliberation.

The rules dictate when an officer may move from mild coercion, such as issuing an order or grabbing a suspect’s arm, to stronger or even deadly action.

Generally speaking, officers are allowed to respond with greater force after a suspect does so, and the type of response-from a gentle push to a tight grip, a baton strike to a stun gun shock, to a bullet, rises as the threat grows.

The shooting death of anyone is tragic.

Police officers are the only people in society who are legally empowered and trained to use force on someone who has not been convicted of a crime. Our life-and-death decision-making is not perfect.

Usually we get it right, sometimes we get it wrong.

However, in both Ferguson (Mo.) and New York City, had Michael Brown and Eric Garner complied with the officers’ lawful orders, both would be alive today.

It’s a very simple analysis, a threat analysis. If a police officer has an objectively reasonable fear of imminent threat to his life or serious bodily injury, he or she is justified in using deadly force.  And not just his or her life, but any life.

One thing that’s changed dramatically with suspects over the years is that their rules are no longer adhered to, anything goes. They will kill you in an instant!

Locally, I must say I have enjoyed working with our local Ministerial Alliance and members of our local NAACP to address their concerns regarding local uses of force

We may not always agree on the issues, but an open dialogue is essential in moving forward.  When law enforcement officers are compelled to use force of any kind in effecting an arrest, we understand it’s never pretty, and it’s not supposed to be pretty.

No one wants to get caught in the act of committing a crime, and no one wants to go to jail. But, no one has a constitutional right to escape detection. We are compelled by law to uphold our constitution and protect the rights of our citizens.

We will continue to make arrests, and we will continue to do so regardless of a suspect’s race or ethnicity.

Q. What can law enforcement do to help manage these issues?

A. We fully recognize the continuing need to ensure the protection of civil rights and civil liberties, which is central to a strong community-police relationship, and therefore, vital to our crime-fighting and homeland security efforts.  We will continue to monitor these incidents on a case by case basis, and, if necessary, we will take corrective action or make policy changes to ensure the safety of our officers and the community we serve.

I’ve been in law enforcement nearly 31 years and I see no need to completely rewrite the way law enforcement responds to defiant suspects. There needs to be greater understanding among our youth and young adults in society when dealing with law enforcement.

When you refuse to obey a law enforcement officer, there are consequences. These consequences will likely involve an application of force.

When there’s force, someone will likely get hurt.

Q. Safety in the schools has also been a national topic. You have deputies positioned in schools now. Talk about the steps that you’ve had to take to make our schools safe from intruders from outside and students from in.

A. In response to national incidents, local law enforcement has drawn on our training and experience to help bolster schools and college security as well as emergency preparedness.

These approaches have led to a number of enhancements in physical security including increased awareness and collaboration between school and local law enforcement personnel about emergency plans, building access control, classroom door locks, barriers to deter hostile intruders, emergency notification systems, and training of our school resource officers.

Many local law enforcement agencies have also enhanced their own training and preparations for responding to situations involving active shooters and other ongoing threats.

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This has included increased deployment of patrol rifles, supplemental body armor, shotguns, tactical trauma kit, and rapid response training-all designed to confront and neutralize an active threat as quickly as possible in order to reduce casualties.

The increase in the number of active shooters throughout the country was a major factor in our decision to acquire an armored vehicle or rescue vehicle for the entire region.

Q. State’s Attorney Matt Maciarello describes you as vital partner in his role of applying justice to the people you arrest. What is that relationship like? Are you happy with the law enforcement leadership in place in the county?

A. Every law enforcement executive in this county is a vital partner in his/her role of applying justice to the people we arrest.  As law enforcement executives, we work closely with State’s Attorney Maciarello and his team to ensure repeat offenders are vigorously prosecuted.

We recognize that the majority of our crimes are committed by repeat offenders, from shoplifters to drug dealers to murderers, rarely are these offenders first-timers.

Matt and his team of prosecutors are critical components in keeping these offenders off the street, but we also recognize that our police officers must do their job in clearly documenting and articulating the facts of each case.

Articulation is critically important to the successful prosecution of any case. Currently, we have an incredibly well-oiled, extremely experienced, and diversely committed team of law enforcement leaders who will continue to strive hard to prepare our future generation of law enforcement professionals for the challenges that lie ahead.

We owe the citizens of Wicomico County to do just that.

Q. You were a most-inspirational and sensitive leader during the community’s shared nightmare of the Sarah Foxwell search and murder investigation. Some people in law enforcement have told me that case changed their lives forever. What was the effect on you?

A. I don’t think there’s anyone in our area today whose lives were not adversely affected over that horrific crime.

The kidnapping and murder of any child is unspeakable, but to have this happen in our back yard was unconscionable. Everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when they learned that an innocent 11-year-old child had been kidnapped from her bedroom in the middle of the night.

What followed was a massive coordinated effort to locate a missing child here in Wicomico County.  Joined by thousands of community volunteers, law enforcement officers mobilized in Wicomico County as Christmas loomed on the horizon.

The dedicated efforts and commitment of hundreds of deputies, troopers, and FBI agents culminated with the discovery of the charred remains of little Sarah on Christmas Day 2009.

Chief Deputy Gary Baker and I were joined by Assistant State’s Attorney Sam Vincent as we walked into the crime scene to view her remains. Words cannot express our profound loss that day.

Our sadness for her family and this community was overwhelming. I was physically and emotionally void of any meaningful response other than sobbing with those around me.

Over the course of those three days, some three thousand people, deeply touched by Sarah’s abduction, mobilized into an unprecedented and powerful force driven by faith and determination that we would locate our fallen angel.

Our hearts remain broken.

Sarah’s picture remains prominently displayed in the hallway just outside my office. Situated near the entrance to our Wicomico Bureau of Investigation, it serves as a reminder as to why we do our jobs.

The detectives — deputies and troopers — who serve in this bureau are the cream of the crop.  I proudly work with each one of them every day. Wicomico County citizens should be proud.

None of us will ever forget Christmas 2009.

Q. We’re hearing a lot about the opiates problem in the community.

A. The skyrocketing use of heroin and other opiates has become a significant health care crisis confronting a number of U.S. states, including Maryland.

Drug overdose deaths in the United States have now surpassed the number of deaths resulting from motor-vehicle crashes, formerly the No. 1 leading cause of accidental death in the United States.

Opiates are an international threat with far-reaching tentacles that have invaded every nook and cranny in North America. The main derivative of opium is Heroin which is more widely preferred today than any other drug on the market and it sells for as little as $7 a bag.

Wicomico County is no different than any other jurisdiction in the nation in terms of opiate addiction.  However, the opiate and heroin issue faced today is far more complex than the drug issues we faced in the past.

The alarming rates of drug overdoses and drug-related fatalities in other U.S. cities in the Northeast tell a similar story.

Vowing to work closely with law enforcement agencies across the state, Gov. Larry Hogan has informally announced his commitment in addressing the heroin epidemic by implementing a Heroin and Opiates Task Force early next month to be chaired by Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford.

In a face to face conversation with the governor, he promised me a seat at that table.

Working with all law enforcement leaders in this county, I want to concentrate on the development of a law enforcement strategy, which includes legislative initiatives, leveraging of the prescription monitoring program, training for our first-responders, public outreach, and the development of a centralized intelligence capability to collect, analyze, and share information related to illicit heroin and opiates activity.

It’s going to be a busy year!

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Q. What can citizens do to help you and your deputies do your jobs?

A. Building a resilient community involves multiple sectors and engagement from each corner of our community. We need an involved citizenry who refuses to shy away from participation due to lack of trust, or fear of victimization or retaliation.

As active members seeking to keep our neighborhoods safe and prepared, we must know how instrumental volunteers can be. A great resource for my deputies is the eyes and ears of the community members we serve.

We must harness the power of every individual through education, training and volunteer service to make our communities safer, stronger and better prepared to respond to the threats of terrorism, crime, public health issues and disasters of all kinds.

We need full community involvement if we’re going to make that difference.

Q. What are the top crime problems in the county?

A. Heroin and other drug-addictions. About  87 percent of all crime is directly linked to drug-addiction. Whether it’s an armed robbery, home invasion, residential burglary, shoplifting, or a vehicle being broken into, these crimes are largely committed for one reason, and that is to satisfy someone’s drug-addiction.

Believe it or not, almost every heroin and cocaine addict started with misdemeanor marijuana usage, and now we have a determined segment of our Maryland General Assembly pushing full-speed ahead for marijuana legalization.

Last year, I fought hard against marijuana decriminalization, and was unsuccessful.  Now, just as we expected, they’re trying to go for legalization.

But, I’m not ready to wave that flag of surrender. I’ll be back up in Annapolis next week willing and ready to fight for the thousands of residents here in Wicomico County that know firsthand what addiction has done to their families. I promise to fight these drug decriminalization and marijuana legalization battles until the very end.

Q. How do you and your deputies manage to perform in your varied and difficult roles as enforcers, social workers, mentors, leaders?

A. There are many challenges we face every day to include ever-changing case law which requires additional training, additional resources, with no additional funding.  These unfunded mandates by the state keep us busy.

One of the single-most threats being widely addressed today is mental illness.  Mental illness is a complex issue that is finally receiving significant attention.  Mental health professionals, law enforcement, and caregivers are looking for a solution to this issue, but a solution is as evasive as the predictability of a potential threat.

The Lower Shore now has a Crisis Intervention Team,  which has largely been funded by the Wicomico County Health Department.

Crisis Intervention Team officers are trained to identify when someone may be experiencing a mental health crisis and they’ll quickly adapt strategies for those individuals.  This approach has been proven to dramatically decrease the risk of injuries or death to both officers and people with mental illnesses, and it also reduces the number of repeated calls for service.

This type of policing demands the skills of a good social worker and an astute law enforcement officer prepared to rapidly switch gears while dealing with those suffering from mental illness.  This training remains a work in progress.

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Q. You’re from here, grew up here — still here. What is your attraction to the Eastern Shore?

A. I was born and raised in Wicomico County.  I attended Powellville School — which is now the Powellville VFW — four years at Beaver Run Elementary School, and I graduated from Wicomico Senior High School.

So, I know most everyone and their lineage from Wicomico County.

That’s been hugely beneficial to me when dealing with the many facets that come with being sheriff.

I love our Eastern Shore people. I love our simplistic, country-style way of life, and I love the unique vernacular of the many Eastern Shore men — including my dad — and women who’ve made our way of life the land of pleasant living.

I have no intentions on relocating anywhere else. This county is where I belong, and as long as I serve as sheriff, I will never forget those who elected me to represent them and their ideals of Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Q. You’ve always struck me as a truly natural leader, but I know you don’t do it all on your own. Tell me a little about your team there on Naylor Mill Road.

A. I fully recognize that I’m the face of the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office to our many loyal and dedicated followers on FaceBook and Twitter, and to the many of those who are now reading our Salisbury Independent Newspaper.

However, I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize the hard-working, behind-the-scenes, dedicated men and women of my command staff who keep me focused on our mission every day.

Chief Deputy Gary Baker, Capt. Tod Richardson, Capt. Babe Wilson, Lt. Tim Robinson, Lt. Rich Wiersberg, and many other supervisory personnel, are committed to further professionalizing the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office, and are largely responsible for my success as sheriff.

I’m blessed to work with each of our 96 sworn sheriff’s deputies and our dedicated civilian staff members who keep our office running 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

I couldn’t do it without them.

Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at gbassett@newszap.com

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