By Ken Rossignol
THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY
WALDORF, MD. — The debate between the two Democratic candidates for Sheriff of Charles County, Maryland, incumbent Sheriff Rex Coffey and challenger Lt. Troy Berry took place on Sunday, March 9, 2014 at the Waldorf Jaycees Hall in Waldorf and was sponsored by the Fraternal Order of Police. The Charles County FOP is expected to take a stand on the election contest between Berry and Coffey which will take place in the Democratic Primary Election on June 24th. In past elections, particularly in 2006, Coffey won the endorsement of the FOP. In the current election the endorsement of the FOP is not certain. There is no Republican candidate who filed for the election however; the GOP Central Committee could select a candidate to represent the party in the General Election on Nov. 4th.
The moderator of the debate was Nicholas Valltos of Calvert County and was agreed upon by both parties as being non-partisan. Valltos introduced the candidates and asked the questions which had been selected in advance by members of the FOP. Sheriff Coffey said in his opening statement that he would be unable to make remarks about any personnel or litigation issues involving his operation of the Sheriff’s Department.
How would you differentiate yourself from your opponent?
Sheriff Rex Coffey:
“I ran three times for this job, went to every fried chicken dinner, and shook hands on every street corner like an idiot.
I go to church here in Charles County, I went to school here in Charles County, my grandchildren go to school here, I have lowered crime to un-imaginable levels, and I have done a good job here.”
Lt. Troy Berry: “Temperament is one of the key ways that I will differentiate myself from my opponent. I will remain professional at all cost, I will not micromanage employees, I will move the agency ahead to 2014. I am committed to moving the Charles County Sheriff’s office into 2014 and beyond.”
What characteristics and qualities should an ethical law enforcement leader possess?
Coffey: “Doing the right thing when no one is watching, that is what I am going to do, I vowed not to let myself, my family or my God down, I am a good person of integrity.”
Berry: “Ethics in law enforcement are paramount and an officer is relied upon as often they are the only witness and therefore, it is essential that they be truthful, Judges often explain to juries that an officer’s word is no greater than any other person involved in a case but I feel that the public relies upon the integrity of an officer.
You can’t have baggage brought into a sheriff’s department, if you have a police officer who doesn’t have integrity it will ruin the credibility of that police agency.
Law enforcement issues that happen elsewhere across the nation affect police everywhere. It is essential that the hiring process be correct as it all starts there.”
Major demographic changes in Charles County have been taking place. What will you do to make sure the Sheriff’s Office keeps pace?
Coffey: “It’s always going to be a challenge, most of you want to know if I can just hire someone off the street, and I can’t. There is a specific process and each step has to be followed. The Maryland Police Officer Training Commission has standards that have to be followed. For the community, I have been mentoring an African-American child in my family; I go to the most diverse church in Charles County. I just do the right thing even when no one is watching.”
Berry: “I have been participating in activities and groups and in my church I shared with young people that everyone is a leader, you either lead them in the right direction or the wrong direction. I have participated in an outreach program in Charles County and school groups, from a law enforcement perspective, yes, we have the opportunity to lock up people but we have the chance to lead them in the right direction.”
Describe the current state of morale in the Sheriff’s Office and your plans to improve it.
Coffey: Confused with prior question. Coffey stopped his answer and the moderator repeated question.
“The morale in our agency is no different than any other police agency in the country and when all is said and done, the officers will have to decide how it’s done. In PG county it was said by longtime officers that from the time you started the administration was against you but eventually they learned that the administration was there to protect you and viewpoints change. Morale is a state of mind.”
Berry: “Morale is low at the Sheriff’s Office, we can’t just say that patrol is the backbone of the agency, as Sheriff, I will be available to all levels of the department, to provide management and fairness, I have worked hard at this agency and if elected I will not forget where I came from. (BIGGEST Applause thus far)
What will you do to improve efficiency?
Coffey: “Funding will be critical to the Sheriff’s Office, we have less crime than we did twenty-five years ago with 60,000 more people, budget has increased from 56 million to 71 million since I have been in office. We have to health insurance for the people in the jail, salaries are more, we received only 12 new officers since I came into office, we have been added 10 new officers this year, we have done more more with less for each year since I have been in office.”
Berry: “Crime is down across Maryland and across the nation. Robbery and aggravated assault are down, PG County is down 18 percent, St. Mary’s is down 13 percent and the question is that are we safer in Charles County and I say no. We all know that crime works at but we only have 16 officers working on the night shift. I constantly have to hold people over to have adequate staffing on the night shift. On this administration, there has not been adequate numbers of officers assigned to the night shift.”
How will you recruit officers to replace the retirees and hire new officers to meet needs of the future?
Coffey: (Correcting a statement made by Berry to effect that the Sherriff’s Office has 350 officers) “We have 301 officers not 350, we went to a new shift plan in response to officers requests, we have two complete shifts of people working, that is 35 to 40 officers and it gives us power numbers when we need them, a large contingency of officers, we went from 5 shifts to 4 shifts, not everyone lives on the doorsteps of Washington DC, we buffer places like St. Mary’s County from the crime of DC. It is the credit of our officers that crime is down.”
Berry: “We have had a number of officers leave because they felt they weren’t being given an opportunity to do the job. There is a manpower issue in the Sheriff’s Office, over the past several years the administration has not supported the staffing levels needed. Newly hired officers should be assigned to the patrol division, once it is done, staffing is a problem and we need to put officers on the street.”
Closing: five minutes were allotted for each candidate.
Coffey: “Where are we supposed to get these officers, where are those officers supposed to come from? The county commissioners control that. Are we supposed to lower the number of officers assigned as criminal investigators? Why are people coming here? This is a safe place to live. Anyone with a brain in their head knows that, people are moving here for safety and because this is a better place to live.”(Crowd let out a loud “ooooohhhh!” when Coffey made this remark, clearly signaling their disapproval, but not a distinct “booo”)
“Fighting crime has been my passion and I am a full-time Sheriff for a full-time job and with dedicated.”
Berry: “Management needs to be a team builder. As Sheriff I will be a positive example, manage fairly and even handedly. My campaign will be based on the issues and not negativity. It has been brought to my attention that there are fake websites set up to distort my campaign with similar names as to my campaign website and I have had technical support track these fake websites to Joseph Gibson who has been identified as setting up these websites. TroyBerry4sheriff.com is the only website that is official of my campaign. (At the end of Berry’s remarks there was a loud round of applause with many in the audience jumping to their feet.”
Both candidates have been invited to submit either written or oral remarks to expand on the debate or correct or offer further remarks for readers of THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY.
Sheriff Coffey said he realizes that the rough and tumble of politics can lead to people saying and doing things that are not right and he has ordered Major Joseph “Buddy” Gibson to take down the misleading websites with similar names as that of his opponent. Sheriff Coffey said that there wasn’t anything on them but wasn’t informed of them in advance and didn’t approve. Sheriff Coffey referred to a a fundraiser for Berry at which former States Attorney Len Collins made untrue remarks as how politics can get rough. Sheriff Coffey also stated that twice during the debate on March 9, 2014 that Berry referred to a No-Confidence vote held by the Fraternal Order of Police without revealing either time that the No-Confidence vote failed to pass. Coffey said that the FOP has voted to endorse him in three prior elections and he hopes to have their support once again.