Two candidates from local law enforcement have stepped forward to challenge Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters as he seeks a fourth term in November 2014.
Corey Falls, deputy chief at the Ashland Police Department and a member of the Medford Police SWAT team, said it's time for a change in the leadership at the Sheriff's Department.
Sheriff's Lt. Bob Sergi, who is on the Jackson County sheriff's SWAT team and is a night supervisor at the jail, said it's time for a new direction.
Sergi and Falls filed papers in August with the Oregon secretary of state to form political action committees.
They can't file candidacy papers with the Jackson County Elections Center until Sept. 12. Winters said he plans to run for sheriff in 2014. He took office in 2002.
If three candidates run in the May 2014 primary election, and one of the candidates gets 50 percent of the vote plus one vote, that person would be the only candidate qualified to run in the general election.
Otherwise, the top two vote getters would run against each other in the November general election.
Falls, a 40-year-old Medford resident, said the sheriff's department needs a fresh set of eyes.
"I think training and experience is exactly what this county needs now," he said.
Falls said he was critical of the helicopter program that the sheriff runs as well as other resources used by the sheriff.
"It's time to really look at how we're using personnel," he said.
Falls said he thinks the sheriff hasn't worked effectively at community outreach and responsiveness to the public.
He said he wants to develop a better problem-solving strategy to reduce crime while improving social issues locally.
Reducing jail overcrowding and decreasing early release are two of his goals.
Falls has worked for law enforcement in Washington state, has been on a drug task force, studied at the FBI Academy, and is working on his doctorate in business administration. He's also gone through programs in tactical training, leadership training and emergency preparedness.
While he grew up in Jackson County, he hasn't worked with the Jackson County Sheriff's Department, but he has worked with the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office in Washington state.
Sergi, a 57-year-old Central Point-area resident who works part time in real estate, said Winters has been too focused on emergency management to the detriment of law enforcement.
Sergi, who has worked for police departments in Long Beach, Calif., and Medford, said he was critical of the video surveillance equipment installed in Shady Cove schools and the high-tech gear for the helicopter.
"I think that we need to go in a different direction and focus more on law enforcement," he said.
A SWAT team leader for 12 years, Sergi said he believes he has a lot of support from other deputies in his bid for sheriff.
An important issue for Sergi is the number of forced releases of prisoners because there's not enough room in the jail.
A jail commander from March 2010 to February 2011, Sergi said he wants to find ways to keep prisoners in the jail.
With a degree in business administration, Sergi said he has certifications in corrections and criminal justice.
Sergi's recent stint with the sheriff's department started three years ago.
For the first year and a half at the sheriff's office, he said he had heard mostly positive things about Winters, but now his opinion has changed, though he didn't offer specific reasons why.
Winters, 55, who lives in a rural area outside Ashland, said the county has been well-served by his time in office.
"I think I have a long record of accomplishments," he said. "It will absolutely stand any challenges."
Winters said he takes issue with Sergi's condemnation of the video surveillance in Shady Cove because it is a technology that could prevent the slaughter of children.
"Coming from a SWAT commander, that is an absolutely ludicrous statement to make," he said.
"Schools have been forced to endure budget cutbacks, so a video surveillance system provides a cost-effective means to protect children," Winters said.
He said he's got a strong record of law enforcement, but he said emergency management is one of the primary jobs of the sheriff, who has to collaborate with other emergency service providers in the area.
Winters said his department runs a fairly cost-effective aviation program that is necessary for search and rescue missions as well as drug seizures.
He said his department spent about $40,000 in 2012 for helicopter operations after accounting for federal grants that help fund the program.
He said a National Guard helicopter can respond to emergencies but it can take up to four hours before it gets to Jackson County. The sheriff's department uses the helicopter only as needed, he said.
Winters said he has carefully watched the sheriff's budget and stands by his record.
"It's up to my opponents to make their case," he said.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org.