Incumbent Rock County Sheriff Robert Spoden is seeking a third straight term this fall. To accomplish that goal, he’ll first have to defeat workplace opponent Capt. Gary Groelle in the Aug. 12 Democratic primary.
Spoden has worked in the Rock County Sheriff’s Office for 26 years, and said he’s still as happy and dedicated to serving the citizens of Rock County as ever.
“I think as long as you feel that you’re capable of giving something back and as long as you feel that you’re able to add something to the community, it’s a good thing, and you should keep going,” Spoden said.
Since there is no Republican nominee, the winner of the primary will most likely be elected in November. Even though he has the utmost respect for Groelle, Spoden said he believes his many accomplishments after eight years on the job show he is the right candidate to vote for at the end of the day.
“You have to look at the record,” Spoden said. “What have I accomplished in eight years? And I think that when you look at where we were and where we are, I think that I have a proven track record of success. I’ve been there. I’ve handled it. I’ve had the multiple homicides. I’ve dealt with budgets. I’ve dealt with jail overcrowding, and all of those were done effectively.
“I believe that my experience and my record give me a better perspective of how to be sheriff,” he added. “And someone who’s coming from the captain’s ranks, who really hasn’t had that type of exposure, or hasn’t had to make those tough decisions in the middle of the night … Those are things that can’t be taught. That’s not something you learn in school. It’s something that you have to gain through actually experiencing it and learning from it.”
Along with his numerous experiences, Spoden also cited the various initiatives he’s helped launch that are meant to help the sheriff’s office look for different alternatives to incarceration, such as the workender program, bracelet program, and a jail new program that Rock County is one of the first in the state to try.
“We just introduced our K-9 correction academy,” Spoden said. “I’m very excited about partnering with the humane society to do that. I think, not only is it going to benefit the animals, but it’s going to benefit the inmates by teaching them a sense of responsibility, making them care for something else besides themselves, giving them a sense of accomplishment and overall reducing tensions within the housing units.”
Alternatives to incarceration isn’t the only issue Spoden is focused on, however. There are quite a few, including underage drinking and drunken driving enforcement, domestic violence, substance abuse and inmates with mental health issues.
“There are a lot of initiatives I’d like to see us push through this year,” Spoden said. “One of them concerns mental health. I’m concerned that the jails are becoming kind of the last safety net for people that have mental health issues. It takes up a lot of our medical unit’s base time. I’m concerned there are not enough resources out there. I think that really needs to be addressed.”
Heroin usage is another hot topic in Rock County that many feel needs to be addressed, but Spoden was quick to note that there is a bigger picture in the war on the drug.
“I’m concerned with not only just heroin but substance abuse issues as well,” Spoden said. “That’s one of the things you learn as sheriff. You have to understand you can’t focus on one topic because you then put all of these issues at risk of kind of being left unattended.”
The final topic Spoden said he was concerned about is the one that might just be the hardest to fight; curbing Internet crimes.
“The Internet is kind of the Wild West, and parents and/or law enforcement are always scrambling to catch up with technology because it changes so rapidly,” Spoden said. “That’s kind of why we started the Computer Cop initiative. We want to continue pushing that and educate parents on speaking frankly with their kids and having open discussions about the use of computers, tablets, iPhones, etc.”
With all of these issues and more on the sheriff’s plate, it will take a strong leader to get the job done, Spoden said. And, for at least another four years, Spoden said it’s clear he’s still the man for the job.
“You have a proven, experienced leader that has been effective for the last eight years in keeping our budget at a reasonable amount, introducing innovative programs, and continuing to push professionalism at the sheriff’s office,” Spoden said. “My record has always been one of innovation, one of community service and one of willingness to really look and think outside the box and try something different to solve many of these problems.”