So few people had heard of Ted Boehm when he first ran for Boone County sheriff that his campaign came up with a phonetic clue to pronouncing his name: “Check the name — Boehm.”
Boehm trounced his opponent with 72 percent of the vote. That was 20 years ago. Today, Boehm leaves office having served as sheriff of Boone County longer than anyone else.
“The page needs to be turned,” says Boehm, 58. “Very few sheriffs in the state do more than two terms. It’s good to go out on a high note.”
Boehm says he knew “zero” about politics when a group of friends approached him in 1983 about running for sheriff. A former member of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, he owned a trucking company that employed two people and grossed about $100,000 a year. Could he lead an agency with a $1.5 million budget and 50 employees?
Any doubts Boehm and others might have had when he took office were quickly dispelled. In five subsequent elections, Boehm faced a total of two opponents. He leaves his successor, Dwayne Carey, with a department that employs 148 people and has an annual budget of more than $7 million.
Nonetheless, as a private man who had never run for office, Boehm had challenges to overcome. He didn’t find it easy to speak in public, and trying to win people over to his way of thinking was not his style.
“Cops are trained to be cautious people,” he says. “I had to get over the hurdles of learning how to go up to strangers. I hated to speak in front of a group of people.”
Boone County Treasurer Kay Murray says Boehm’s determination to professionalize the department overrode his anxieties.
“If Ted decided on something, he didn’t mince words,” Murray says. “He came to the commission and he didn’t ask, ‘May I do this?’ He said, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’ He was not afraid to take on any one of them.”
Among other things Boehm battled the Boone County Commission for more money to feed and transport jail inmates, equip deputies with radios and fund neighborhood watch programs.
A lawsuit over conditions at the old Boone County Jail greeted Boehm on his first day in office. The downtown facility dated back to 1936, and its walls were crumbling so badly that an inmate was able to break into an adjoining cell where he sexually assault a young schizophrenic woman.
Boehm capped the jail’s capacity at 68, but it typically housed more than 100 prisoners at a time. He sought out alternative sentencing solutions, such as sending low-risk, work-release prisoners to an old armory.
He also sought new technology. In 1988, the department began using an electronic tether to monitor the whereabouts of low-risk prisoners. A few years earlier, Boehm convinced the Boone County Commissioners to buy computers to replace the cardboard boxes used to store files.
When a new 184-bed jail opened in Prathersville in 1991, Boone County was among the first jurisdictions in the country to use computerized locks. Around the same time, Boehm supported video arraignment, which helped the department cut back on the cost of transporting suspects from the jail to the courthouse.
“I have never been afraid to walk on the edge of progress,” he says.
But one of Boehm’s first innovations took place in the driveway of his home, shortly after he took office. Armed with rolls of tape, Boehm gussied up the department’s used patrol cars with bright yellow stripes.
“Visibility is a big deterrent,” he says. “Now every police agency in this state has decals on their cars.”
A native of Linn in rural Osage County, Boehm was the third of four children.
He briefly attended Lincoln University. In 1967, he entered a 12-week training academy for the Missouri State Highway Patrol. After graduating, Boehm was hired by the patrol’s Columbia division. After 14 years with the highway patrol, Boehm evaluated his options. He had a daughter and two young sons, and any promotion would require that he leave the home his family had made in Boone County. Boehm left law enforcement to start a trucking business.
When he returned three years later as sheriff, Boone County’s population was 104,531 and rising. Yet Boehm inherited a department that was relatively poorly equipped.
“In 1984, you drove your own car on patrol,” says Carey, who rode Boehm’s endorsement to victory over Republican Mick Covington on Nov. 2. “When I came in, we were still buying used patrol cars. Now we buy brand-new cars.”
Carey says Boehm’s greatest legacy will be the quarter-cent tax increase voters approved in 2002 to pay for improved law enforcement. Boehm opposed a similar measure in 2000. His support for Proposition L two years later will have lasting impact, Carey says.
“He was the only official to oppose it (in 2000) because he didn’t think it was necessary,” Carey says. “Then in 2002, he came back to the voters with Proposition L, and it was the only law enforcement sales tax to ever pass.”
Sturgeon police chief Timothy Kamp says the measure has expanded the county’s law enforcement reach to outlying rural communities. Sturgeon used to go without a police officer when crime suspects needed to be driven the 40 miles from the town’s police station to Boone County’s jail, Kamp says.
“Now a deputy comes to pick them up,” he says.
Not only has the county continued its steady growth — 141,122 residents in 2003, according to census data — but public opinion about police work has changed, Boehm says. Residents are more aware of crimes such as domestic violence and child abuse, so they are reported more often. People also expect police to make arrests for misbehavior that used to be considered negligible, such as underage drinking, he says.
“The magnifying glass is bigger,” Boehm says. “More people are watching what we do.”
While Boehm’s accomplishments are many, things haven’t always gone his way. In 1987, 11 MU students represented by the American Civil Liberties Union sued the sheriff’s department over strip searches ordered after they were arrested during a political protest. A U.S. district court judge ruled in favor of the students, saying strip searches of non-felony suspects was a violation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
But even a man who has on occasion disapproved of the sheriff’s department under Boehm’s watch is sad to see him go.
Columbia defense attorney Dan Viets calls Boehm an honest man with integrity.
“He’s always been very responsive if I ever needed to approach him about anything,” Viets says. “I’m sorry he chose to move on, but I’m sure he has other things he wants to do.”
More recently, Boehm was accused by a former detective in the department of playing favorites among employees. Ken Kreigh, who would lose to Carey in August’s Democratic primary, was disciplined by Boehm after an October 2003 drug bust erupted into gunfire. No one was hurt, but Kreigh was accused of endangering the public by letting the situation get out of hand.
Kreigh resigned at a news conference at which he pointed out that Carey had also been involved in the bust but Boehm had not disciplined him.
Boehm acknowledges that he can be “rough around the edges.”
“I’ve always told people what I believed,” he says. “You have to just be yourself to build trust. People recognize a phony personality awful quick.”
Carey agrees that, for better or worse, Boehm is honest.
“He’ll give you his opinion, whether you like it or not,” he says.
Boehm says leaving the sheriff’s department after two decades will be difficult, but he is looking forward to retirement. He plans to play golf, travel with his wife, spend time with his six grandchildren and work on his Corvette.
At 37, Carey is the same age as Boehm was when he took over for outgoing Sheriff Charlie Foster. Carey says his predecessor’s record has helped make his transition to the position smoother.
“I’m coming in 2005 with a good staff and equipment,” Carey says. “He’s made my job that much easier.”