TWO CANDIDATES are seeking the job of sheriff of Columbia County and in any normal time incumbent Sheriff David Bartlett, running for a second four-year term would and should be reelected. But our times are not normal and Chatham Police Chief Peter Volkmann has one clear advantage that makes him the better of two qualified candidates.
The most visible activity of the Sheriff’s Office is the Road Patrol, with well trained deputies who enforce traffic laws and respond to every kind of emergency imaginable, often as the first responders at accidents or crime scenes. In addition the sheriff runs the county jail, where Sheriff Bartlett has introduced programs to assist inmates trying to control their drug addictions.
The office also has crime investigators, civil law responsibilities and, during Sheriff Bartlett’s tenure, has expanded the school resource officer program and drug abuse awareness efforts. Sheriff Bartlett has spent his career in the Sheriff’s Office and has intimate knowledge of its operations and staff.
Chief Volkmann, a former deputy sheriff, heads the part-time Chatham force. In Chatham he has improved the training of the police, convinced the Village Board to upgrade equipment and earned greater respect from the community for the job the police do. And then, last year, he introduced a program in Chatham that changes the way law enforcement intersects with public health and safety.
Using a police program in Massachusetts as the model, he started Chatham Cares for You (“CC4U”). It encourages people addicted to drugs and who have no criminal warrants to come to the Chatham Police Station and request help finding a drug treatment bed and transportation to the treatment facility. No arrests. Just help.
Since the program started it has helped over 100 people get treatment, which is recognized as the best chance people gripped by substance abuse disorder have to overcome their addiction.
On the face of it, CC4U is not enough to get Peter Volkmann or anybody else elected sheriff. But Chief Volkmann, like Sheriff Bartlett, is a cop. Both men want to take down major drug dealers. They know there are people in the jail convicted of–or awaiting trial for–crimes that put the public at risk. But addressing this crisis calls for more than getting tougher on crime. The times demand openness to new ideas, including programs that recognize the victims of drug abuse are different from those who profit from the victims’ misery.
Sheriff Bartlett says we cannot arrest our way out of the opioid crisis, which the president has now declared a national health emergency. The sheriff is right, but how do we do that? He offers to expand the programs he has in place, but those measures, as important as they are, cannot keep up with the increase of opioid abuse and the alarming rise in drug overdose deaths.
CC4U is not magic. It’s fair to ask whether it could work on a county level alongside all the other Sheriff’s Office tasks. Chief Volkmann admits he won’t know until he tries. All the public knows is that he is already managing a program helps addicted people get the help that can save their lives.
It’s this openness to new ideas tempered by years of police experience that makes Peter Volkmann the choice for our next sheriff. He’s not asking us to judge him on his promises. He asks for our votes based on what he’s doing. Chief Volkmann shows us what the county sheriff could accomplish and gives us reason to hope that he can.