Editorial: Villarreal will fix whats broken

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 3, 2006

Sheriff Mark Harig should be voted out of office. We endorse Bill Villarreal to replace him.

Freeborn County needs a professional, modern Freeborn County Sheriff&8217;s Office. It needs a leader who embraces the concepts of community policing.

Community policing, according to the Community Policing Consortium, &8220;recognizes the value of bringing the people back into the policing process.&8221;

In short, it means cops need to get to know the good guys, not just the criminals. Community policing has proven itself as an effective way to prevent crime. The Albert Lea Police Department has joined the trend.

Villarreal, who retired from the Albert Lea Police Department this year, touts community policing. A volunteer all around town, he is good for the role because he is approachable and lets the law &8212; not his ego, not his buddies &8212; guide his police work. He can be an agent for change.

Harig says his office already does community policing, but a law-enforcement department without a Web site can hardly claim to be reaching out to the people. Harig admits he should have taken national training for sheriffs his first year, not his last. He has struggled with management and staying under his budget.

Harig seems more interested in getting more toys for the department and routing out his internal enemies than addressing real problems. His reaction to the recent flap over taking an inmate to Mason meetings was to blame the newspaper for informing people about the courthouse conflict &8212; a shoot-the-messenger approach &8212; rather than address the concerns of his critics.

Villarreal rightly says the Sheriff&8217;s Office is top-heavy. There needs to be more deputies among the public. The communications system is outdated, which in September resulted in everyone talking over each other during the Freeborn tornado drill. There needs to be more cross-training among people in law enforcement, fire and medicine.

Further, Villarreal, who worked the first eight years of his career with the Freeborn County Sheriff&8217;s Office, knows there needs to be a better working relationship with media outlets. Doing so allows the public help the police catch crooks. Harig is wary of the media because he is wary of public scrutiny.

Harig touts the same issues that got him elected four years ago, most notably meth. In fact, reducing meth labs and forming a hazardous-materials team stand out as feathers in his cap.

Villarreal knows more needs to be done to cut trafficking of meth. These days, that is where most of it comes from. Community policing and a professional agency are two steps that will help.

Those reasons alone should be enough to support Villarreal.

But if they aren&8217;t then this should be: On two occasions at the Tribune he suggested his opponent had an extra-marital affair. This is beneath contempt. There is no evidence of the suggestion&8217;s truthfulness. It&8217;s mudslinging and sheer desperation, and they are pitiful.