Three Answers – Kevin Coppinger And Jerry Robito
By William Legault
The primary elections for Essex Count Sheriff are this Thursday, 8 September.
Some time back we here at Salem Digest sent all of the 13 announced candidates for Essex County Sheriff a list of three questions concerning what they would do if elected to succeed current Essex County Sheriff Frank Cousins.
We heard back from nine of them, but only six actually sent responses to our email containing the three questions.
Kevin Coppinger Democrat
Ed O’Reilly Democrat
Jerry Robito Democrat
Paul L. D. Russell Democrat
Kenneth Berg Republican
Jeffrey Gallo Republican
Here are the three questions we asked.
- The opioid epidemic has affected all demographics all across the country. What plans do you have to reduce recidivism among those incarcerated that are drug dependent on a personal level or as a way to earn income?
- The relationship with the corrections officers and their union has not been the best. Would addressing that relationship be a priority of your administration?
- With thousands of inmates, hundreds of employees, and a budget in excess of $60 Million, many feel that the budget lacks appropriate oversight. Do you have any plans to examine that budget and perhaps create additional oversight and transparency in order to show the public that the budget is well administered?
Here are the answers provide by Kevin Coppinger and Jerry Robito who will each be on the Democratic ballot. We did not edit any of the answers.
1. The opioid epidemic has impacted all demographics all across the country. What plans do you have to reduce recidivism among those incarcerated that are drug dependent on either a personal level or as a way to earn income?
Today the office of Sheriff is not just about holding those who break the law accountable; it must also be about increasing our ability to deal with drug addiction, address mental health issues, and create more effective reentry programs. In addition, the Department must be part of regional efforts to prevent crime by working with all agencies of law enforcement and the community to improve prevention, intervention and rehabilitation.
There is no one solution to the opioid epidemic. Drug dealers who prey on others should be arrested, tried and incarcerated to keep them from addicting more people. However, addicts who are trying to get free of addiction should be given the chance to do so. The Angel Program that allows addicts to voluntarily seek detox and avoid incarceration is just one approach that shows promise to get some addicts the detox they need. There are other programs operating to reach the street addicts who are not able or prepared to voluntarily seek detox but could be helped to do so. It will take implementing multiple programs to address the problems created by addiction.
As Sheriff, when any individual is arrested, tried and convicted for drug dealing or a drug related crime, I would continue to work with the Drug Court Working Group in efforts to determine the proper sentencing options in partnership with judges, the District Attorney’s Office, defense attorneys, Probation, and Parole
Upon intake at the Jail, individual plans would be made for each inmate based on their history. The issue of mental health treatment should also be reviewed as both often go hand in hand. For the drug dependent convicted of low level crimes, detox and treatment. For drug dealers and those convicted of more serious offenses, incarceration
Proper and comprehensive after-care plans would be a must. These plans would need to follow the individual back to the community. The overall plan must start at the jail and, upon release, coordinate with local community resources as available if we are to achieve success.
The Sheriff’s Department should work closely with follow-up agencies both pre- and post-release. For example, using the ROCA Model, “Less Jail, More Future”, individuals who enter their program have a better chance of being successful. Lyn instituted this program in January, 2016. Aimed at the 18-24 year old males, their track record of success is admirable. Job skill training leading to job placement under their supervision is a win-win. Other local social services agencies need to be involved and available to those with a history of drug addiction. Contact information for local services should be provided related to need, (i.e. Narcotics Anonymous, Alcohol Anonymous, Lynn Shelter Association, Lynn Community Health Center and similar local programs throughout Essex County.)
It is also advisable to have the court order participation in these services as the judge sees fit. Sometimes the threat of re-incarceration is quite a motivator to stay clean.
Yes. I strongly believe that success in any organization depends on the mutual respect developed between management and employees. The employees are the “core” of the ECSD and a critical element in making the organization successful. Properly trained and equipped staff leads to employee confidence in their job skills which improve both officer and inmate safety. Employee training, at all levels, must be maintained at the highest level possible. All certifications must be current and applicable to duties performed. Proper equipment and other necessary job related resources need to be provided.
As Sheriff, I would invite union representation to meet with me early on so that I would have a clear understanding of their views and opinions. My intent is to engage them in an on-going conversation to work in concert to improve the Department as a whole
I would seek improvement in the Employee Assistance Program. At the Lynn Police Department, we initiated such a program here several years ago and I expanded it during my current tenure as Chief of Police by adding 4 “Peer Support Officers” who are the “go to” liaisons for officers and their immediate families who might need their services. Support services are not necessarily just job related; the underlying issue could be anything, i.e. family, financial, substance abuse, depression, and other problems that interfere with the employee’s ability to perform their duties well. The overall health and welfare of the employees would be a top priority in my role as Sheriff.
With over 20 years of experience working regularly on budgets, including the last seven years when I have been personally accountable for developing and managing a $20 million nnual budget, I understand the detailed and often times complex process of spending public tax dollars efficiently and effectively.
If elected Sheriff, the first thing I would do is to have a top-to-bottom professional audit done in order to get a clear picture of how things have been handled to date. I would assess the audit results and determine what policies and programs need to be continued, modified or terminated and how new priorities can be achieved. Knowing some costs are fixed and generally not subject to change, i.e. personnel costs, inmate costs (health care, food, etc.), I would prioritize remaining dollars to be spent in the best way possible according to identified goals and objectives.
Short term (>5 years) and long term (5+ years) spending goals should also be established based on funding projections from the State. Plans should be made to prioritize these goals based on cost and need while funding strategies should be developed including plans over multiple fiscal years. Budgets are public record and should be available for the public to view. The Sheriff’s Department budget should be made easily available to the public for viewing on the ECSD website.
I know first hand that the current Drug and Alcohol Program in place at the Middleton Jail is not working. I have been researching many programs out there and the Federal Prison System has one in place. The Residential Drug Abuse Program, (RDAP). I believe that is the first Component. The second component is having an After Care and Resource Program in place. Upon release from jail, inmates are at their most vulnerable state. The transition back into society for an inmate upon his or her release should not be taken lightly, and the Sheriff’s Dept., should provide a service to care and transition these offenders in an effort to try and reduce the recidivism. The days of having an inmates come to jail and kicking them out the door upon their release are over. I was in charge of work release for inmates in early 2000, and one of the biggest questions asked was do these inmates have trades. Inmates currently at the Middleton jail are afforded the opportunity to get a GED while incarcerated. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make them marketable for a job. We need to teach these inmates trades to prepare them for their return to society.
I worked 34 years for the Essex County Sheriff’s Dept. I worked for three Sheriff’s, and each and every one of them had very little understanding of team building, or what a corrections officer deal with, day in and day out. No matter what field you’re in communication is Vital.
A true leader is receptive to input and ideas. The problem is if the Sheriff is not willing to negotiate with the union, the union members lose faith in the union leaders and it becomes a divide and conquer environment, and when moral is down the Care, Custody and Control of inmates is at risk. So that is one of the most important elements to be addressed within the Dept.
The Essex County Sheriff’s budget is Approx. $54 million dollars. The accountability for how that money is spent is not monitored the way it should be. When the Sheriff goes out and purchases an SUV loaded with a Price tag of $75,000 for someone he just promoted or hired, that is a waste of tax payers money. Not to mention the current Sheriff has hired friends from the outside with no corrections experience, that are given jobs with salary’s well over eighty to ninety thousand dollars a year. That is why in my career, I have seen two sheriff’s go to jail within the Essex County Sheriff’s Dept. and Middlesex County. The Sheriff is basically given in this case 54 million dollars and very little accountability in regards to where that money goes, as a result, I would have an audit of the books as one of the first things I would do. We as a Law Enforcement Agency should have transparency clearly to show we have nothing to hide.