MIAMI — The two men facing off to become Ottawa County’s next sheriff came together Thursday night at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M's Commons Hall for a candidate forum.
The event was well attended by supporters of both party candidates and the public.
The incumbent Democratic candidate Ottawa County Sheriff Derek Derwin, and Republican candidate Jeremy Floyd each gave opening statements, answered previously citizen submitted questions reviewed by the candidates prior to the forum, and then gave closing remarks.
Both opponents thanked the organizers and attendees of the event and referred or read from prepared responses during the forum moderated by NEO's Political Science Instructor Tom Callan.
Derwin said in part his opening remarks that he is a lifelong resident of Ottawa County, and a member of the First United Methodist Church, who has devoted his career to public service for 17 years.
“I started working on the graveyard shift at the jail back in 1999 and have dedicated my entire adult life to serving Ottawa County,” Derwin said.
Derwin was appointed sheriff in January to replace the retiring sheriff, Terry Durborow.
“In my time in Ottawa County I believe relationships with other county officials and the people in the community I think will help me move our county forward,” he said. “…What I want to convey the most is the true love and dedication that I feel toward this county and the people who live here.”
Derwin said he accepted the job including the challenges of an aging, fully populated jail and tight budget.
“I took this job day one knowing I would be named in a federal lawsuit that was brought forth under a previous administration. I took this job knowing there are people who aren't always pleased with law enforcement and the contact that they have with them and I know as sheriff I will have to bear the brunt of some of that displeasure. I didn't accept this job out of some inflated sense of power or some belief that there's power in the office of sheriff because when it comes down to it, I'm just a regular person, I'm a dad, I'm a husband, I'm a neighbor and I took this job out of a sheer sense of responsibility to my community,” he said.
Floyd next addressed the auditorium of listeners with his opening remarks.
“When I approached my wife about the whole idea of running for sheriff, she basically looked at me and said,' Are you crazy?' I said, 'Yeah, I guess I have to be.' You know with any sheriff's office there are going to be problems,” he said.
Floyd was born in Miami, raised in Commerce and he now lives on a small farm outside of Commerce.
“It's home to me, and anything I can do to bring that home feeling to anyone it's always a pleasure” he said.
Floyd said after high school in Commerce he attended NEO and Missouri Southern and Central Christian College in Kansas and started a career in law enforcement and now has 18 years of experience in Arkansas and Oklahoma. Floyd said he is currently working as a criminal justice advisor for Central Christian College traveling the country promoting the program and instructing courses.
Callan first question asked in the forum was, “Have you ever been arrested?
“Sometimes in life people make mistakes, some may or may not get caught or punished for their particular mistake or act, some may even be accused of something they have nothing to do with,” Floyd said. “Yes, unfortunately I fell victim of a wrongful accusation. Yes, I have been arrested but never convicted. The case was dismissed. When I was accused of the crime it really played a toll on my life. My anger, sadness and driven motivation to seek the truth was overwhelming at times. I often prayed and asked, 'Why me, God?' I didn't find that answer until later in life and it was to make you a stronger person. God knows all of our triumphs and failures, but as I get older I've learned also that everything we do in life has consequences rather good or bad, but it's the consequences that molds our lives. I look back and I see things in my past as life hurdles, and every hurdle we encounter it only prepares us for the future. So tonight at this forum I stand before all of you and God and want to say if I didn't feel qualified or fit for the position of sheriff I wouldn't be here today asking for your support to be sheriff, but most importantly, I'm asking for your permission to lead Ottawa County into the necessary direction and give everyone a sheriff's department they can be appreciative and proud of.”
“Well I'm going to give a very simple answer, yes, I've been arrested,” Derwin said. When I was 19 years old I decided it would be best not to pay a speeding ticket that I got…I am driving through Grove one evening and I got stopped I think it was for a tail light that was out, and they knew that I hadn't paid my speeding ticket, so they took me into the police department there at Grove. They took my picture, booked me in and I called my grandmother to get me out because I was terrified to call my parents. So by paying for my ticket and paying my fine they let me go. I tell this story to kids that come through and they make mistakes and let them know, “Hey, I'm the sheriff, I've been deputy sheriff for years, I got arrested, but it's all about taking responsibility and letting people know if you do not pay your speeding tickets they do not go away.”
Callan asked Floyd in a follow up question, why he was arrested.
“Uh, I was arrested, I was actually accused, going back to my notes here, back in 2008. I was working as a police chief and I was politically accused of stealing some sort of a vehicle. To this day, like I said, I don't know, it was politically trumped up and it bothered me at the time but you know I got through that and got everything dismissed, so I was happy to see that,” Floyd said.
The next question asked by Callan, “can you both name some specific reforms for the sheriff’s department?
Derwin stressed the importance of reports and documentation, using all available training and resources to enhance investigations to resolve crimes.
He said he has evaluated the budget and raised deputy and jailer pay to be more competitive and to help retain, and recruit to the sheriff’s office and he is making much needed repairs to the aging jail as the budget allows.
“The community expects us to fight crime, you expect us to be well trained and make wise decisions. I think the biggest limitations come with lack of funds. I am realistic to what I think we can accomplish,” he said.
His goal has been to connect with the community, especially children, to make deputies more approachable
Floyd said his goal was to strive for greatness at all levels in the department and builds morale and trust in a team approach working with tribes and business owners.
“My first step toward reform is building a team that is determined to reach their goals necessary to excel,” he said.
Callan asked each candidate if they would ask the community to approve sales taxes to support the sheriff’s office.
Derwin and Floyd both said they would not be in favor of taxes for the law enforcement purposes.
Callan then asked, “How would you address the rampant methamphetamine problem?”
Floyd said the meth problem is a large problem in the county and state and he would implement a criminal investigation department assigned to narcotics investigations full time to work with all law enforcement agencies in the county to share intelligence. He said community education and outreach could help gap the space toward working with law enforcement to address this issue.
Derwin said it is unrealistic to believe the methamphetamine problem can soon be brought under control because of the large supply coming into the state. He said problems in the criminal justice system in dealing with those arrested and convicted of narcotics crimes, with overburdened courts, and repeat offenders is not working and says it calls for systematic reforms to deal with drug crimes and until then his deputies are working hard and fighting to get the drug out of the community.
“An example is the recent conspiracy case with over 20 arrests in Ottawa county directed by the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and assisted by our own DA’s task force which was the largest meth case so far in Ottawa and Delaware counties and our detectives were instrumental in bringing forth those arrests,” he said.
Callan next asked the candidates about their thoughts on civil forfeiture.
Derwin said he is a proponent of civil forfeiture to divert funds used for illegal drug activity and he believes there are benefits.
“Just earlier this year our narcotics officers arrested a 28-year-old woman and seized over $36,000 and her vehicle. This person also had in her possession an amount of methamphetamine that would be consistent enough for a distribution case. The cash that she had was admittedly being used to commit a crime, and the vehicle was being used to perpetuate that crime,” Derwin said,
Taking these types of assets after an arrest prevents their illicit use, Derwin said, but he said civil forfeiture is common sense and should be done in conjunction with district attorney’s cooperation.
Floyd answered that he stands firmly on the Constitution and said he is angered by any infringement on civil rights. He cited statistics regarding forfeitures made without arrest.
“If civil forfeiture is done properly and legally through due process I’m all for it but I will not stand for the rights of citizens to be trampled on,” he said.
Both candidates were asked if they believe the Bureau of Indian Affairs or tribal law enforcement agencies should be able to make traffic stops.
Floyd said he waivers back and forth on the issue and believes the community should be policed without federal forces, and should be used as support only.
“On the other hand the more eyes and ears we have available the better we can rid this crime,” he said.
Derwin answered that he too is opposed to the federal government imposing law on a local level, but has found the tribal and BIA resources valuable and advantageous with cooperative and highly trained officers.
“I have, since becoming sheriff, issued commissions to our BIA and to our tribal police officers and will continue to do so as long as they offer the resources and assistance that they have available,” he said. “The commissions that I grant are provisional and can be taken away at any time any bounds are overstepped that are unnecessary or unethical.”
Both candidates were asked their opinions on community policing.
“I’ll give a simple answer, I support community policing,” Derwin said. “I believe that the trust between the public and law enforcement is key in stopping crime. If the public is apprehensive in reporting a crime or they feel that if they call and report a crime and nothing is going to be done then that’s a serious problem within the agency. Reporting and deputy conduct are important to me.”
“I’m a firm believer in community policing. Law enforcement forgets at time we’re serving the people, and I’ve found out over the years with the people’s help it made my job easier,” Floyd said.
Both men said deputy involvement in the community is important and imperative to them being more approachable and connected.
“Law enforcement feels a sense of uncertainty and protects themselves, which I refer to as their turtle shell, that protects them from all evil, but what we all forget sometimes is that shell is not need on every occasion,” Floyd said.
Both candidates thanked NEO A&M for hosting the event and encouraged county voters to go to the polls to cast their vote.
“I leave you tonight with a saying that I find very true and that we lack in today’s world, a saying that I hold dear to my heart, ‘The greatest leader is not necessarily the one that does the greatest things, but the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.’ Ronald Reagan said that,” Floyd said.
“Before you vote for a candidate, ask yourself, what is the motivation behind running for office. Ask yourself who is this person at their core. Myself personally I feel a deep responsibility towards this county,” Derwin said.
— Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org. or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1