Sheriff hopefuls focus on meth, policing

Candidates want to involve communities in law enforcement.
Friday, July 30, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:34 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 10, 2008

During public debates and in personal statements, the four candidates for Boone County Sheriff say that reducing methamphetamine use and increasing the presence of deputies in communities will be priorities, if they are elected.

Combating methamphetamine production in Boone County is a major issue say Democrat Ken Kreigh, a former sheriff’s detective, and Republican Mick Covington, a former captain at the Columbia Police Department. Both Kreigh and Covington have a background fighting drugs. Before he resigned from the department this year, Kreigh was a supervisor of the drug enforcement unit. Covington was an undercover narcotics agent for two years.

For Kreigh, meth is at the heart of Boone County’s crime problem.

“A good proportion of thefts, larcenies, forgeries are due to supporting a drug habit,” Kreigh said. “There’s a significant increase in domestic abuse and assault, and if drugs are completely out of the picture, I think all those areas will go down radically.”

Covington said he is committed to combating meth production and drug trafficking by teaching residents how to identify when meth is being produced in their neighborhoods. He would also make it easier for residents to report suspicious activities and improve his department’s working relation with state and federal law enforcement agencies.

“That’s a realistic goal,” Covington said. “I don’t think it’s realistic to think that we can put a law enforcement officer on every corner to stop it, but we can approach it as a community project.”

Democrat Dwayne Carey, a sheriff’s captain, said southern Missouri, not Boone County, is responsible for the state’s reputation as the top meth producer in the United States. Carey, who has been endorsed by outgoing Sheriff Ted Boehm, said the department’s current efforts have been adequate to address the problem.

“It’s not really anything that we have to enhance right now, because I think the changes we’ve already made under this present administration have solved a lot of that problem,” Carey said. “We’re never going to win the methamphetamine battle. (We) never won the marijuana battle, never won the crack cocaine battle, never will win it. But you just gotta keep fighting.”

For Democrat O.J. Stone, a sheriff’s major, Missouri’s large unpopulated areas, central location in the country, easy access to anhydrous ammonia because of farming and the fact that it’s “the crossroads of America” further contribute to the rise in meth production and use in the state. Stone’s solution to the problem is to enhance the cooperation between the sheriff’s department and the special forces which focus on meth crimes, such as MUSTANG (Mid-Missouri Unified Strike Team and Narcotics Group).

Last year, Missouri law enforcement officers seized 2,725 meth labs — more than seven labs per day and more than the number of labs busted in California, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Florida combined, according to Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon, who spoke this year at the Show-Me Anti-Meth Coalition in Moberly.

Community policing is an important plank in the platforms of the Stone and Kreigh campaigns. Community policing is collaboration among police, government and community members in identifying and solving problems within the community.

For Stone, community policing would require numerous proactive steps, including decentralizing the department’s deputies, ensuring adequate staff, allocating school resource officers and placing deputies in all districts of the county.

“It’s a decentralization concept that I think is really good, and I want to keep doing that,” Stone said.

Introducing community policing is one of the first changes that Kreigh will implement if elected, he said. The change would include assigning beat areas to the deputies and expecting them to know the residents and their property as well as inspiring the residents’ trust.

“This is a change in attitude and focus. It won’t require new staff and taxes,” Kreigh said. “For the perceivable future, we can hold on to Proposition L. There’s going to be a need for more officers down the road, but not immediately.”

Proposition L, an 1/8-cent sales tax for law enforcement purposes, was approved with a public vote in 2002 and put in effect Jan. 1, 2003. The more than $2 million from the tax has gone to hiring 11 new deputies and buying new equipment for the department.

Such forms of policing have already been employed by the department, according to Carey. “We’ve tried it; we use some forms of it,” Carey said. “But to say that the Boone County Sheriff’s Department will go to a full community-oriented policing program is just not feasible.”

Covington, who has no opponent in Tuesday’s Republican primary, sees community policing as “problem identification and problem solving.”

This approach involves not only responding to calls from the community but trying to solve its problems before they occur until you get to the point where you get no calls, he said. “You solve the problem; you don’t just react to a problem,” Covington said. Such an approach, however, is labor and time intensive, he said.

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