June 19, 2024

Republican candidates for Jasper County sheriff participate in forum

Party-led event covered qualifications, party relevance to position, drug problems and more

Three Republican candidates running for Jasper County sheriff – from left: Lt. Brad Shutts and Sgt. Tracy Cross of the Jasper County Sheriff's Office and Colfax Police Chief Jeremy Burdess – take turns speaking during a party-organized forum May 14 at St. Luke United Methodist Church in Newton.

Three Republican candidates running for sheriff of Jasper County participated in a party-organized forum this week. Since the local Democratic Party does not have any of its own candidates running for the seat, the results of the primary election on June 4 will, in all likelihood, decide who will be the next sheriff.

Jasper County Sheriff John Halferty will be retiring from a nearly 40-year career in law enforcement at the end of the year. In the running to take over his spot are Republican candidates Lt. Brad Shutts and Sgt. Tracy Cross of the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office and Colfax Police Chief Jeremy Burdess.

Candidates gathered inside the chapel of the St. Luke United Methodist Church, whose parking lot in the 500 block of East 19th Street North was completely full of cars. The room was similarly filled to the brim with an attentive audience eagerly awaiting answers to their submitted questions.

WHAT QUALIFIES YOU TO BE SHERIFF?

Shutts has been exposed to law enforcement all his life. His father was a deputy for 29 years and he grew up in that lifestyle. It was a profession he felt he had a good sense for, and he always felt the need to help others. Shutts pursued his career as a reserve, a dispatcher and a jailer while working through college.

“I worked with numerous amounts of law enforcement — family, friends — throughout the years. Troopers, city police officers, firemen, EMTs. It’s kind of shaped my whole life in law enforcement,” Shutts said. “I have a good sense for the people and their needs and I’m open to talk to.”

Cross entered into his career in law enforcement by making sure he focused on paying attention to the things his leaders were doing. They taught him the most important thing is being available to your people, always answering the call and responding when needed. These are principles Cross follows.

“I’ve been in law enforcement a little shorter than these guys. I can’t control that,” Cross said. “But I learned a lot in a profession I did before this, working with a lot harder individuals in building trades and understanding character and understanding how individuals are in real life. I brought that experience into this.”

Burdess has served in law enforcement for 14 years in a number of different capacities. In most of his roles, he has been a leader. As the chief of police in Colfax, he is familiar with budgets and managing people. He believes it is important to listen to others and be open to new ideas.

“It’s not about me, it’s about them,” Burdess said of sheriff’s office staff. “It’s about helping them to develop themselves so they can be what they want to be.”

DOES IT MATTER IF CANDIDATE IS DEMOCRAT OR REPUBLICAN?

“Absolutely not,” Shutts said.

The lieutenant said there has been legislative ideas floating around about taking away parties from locally elected offices. Day-to-day operations in the sheriff’s office, or law enforcement in general, are not — or should not — be impacted by political decisions. Shutts said no decisions are made by political agendas.

“We don’t ask D or R before starting CPR,” Shutts said. “It’s about citizens. It’s about the communities we serve in. It’s about having good common sense when making decisions. It’s not about world Democratic views or world Republican views when you’re handling someone’s life or the worst day in their life.”

Enforcement of laws is not based upon political parties, Shutts added. Cross said he is running as a Republican but it does not change how he does his job.

“But I am here running as a Republican,” Cross said.

Burdess said it doesn’t matter whether a candidate for sheriff is a Democrat or a Republican. They choose parties based on their backgrounds and their feelings about different issues in society. Burdess said he considers himself a conservative Christian.

HAVE YOU DECIDED YOUR CHIEF DEPUTY?

Shutts said the sheriff is a huge position, and the chief deputy essentially serves as the “right arm” of the sheriff. That individual takes a lot of responsibility. The current chief deputy is Duane Rozendaal, who Shutts said has devoted his whole life to law enforcement and had a successful career in Iowa State Patrol.

“He was brought in by Sheriff Halferty when he was elected sheriff. He’s been a great asset to us. He goes beyond expectations of anybody,” Shutts said. “He’s very personable and well-liked by the staff and he gets the job done every day … When Duane decides it’s time for Duane to leave, that’s when he’ll leave.”

Cross said at this time he will decide on a chief deputy after the primary. Burdess punctuated what Shutts said about Rozendaal, saying he has always had great respect for him. If he chose to stay, Burdess said there would be a lot that he could learn from him and would be very welcomed to be his chief deputy.

WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT DRUG PROBLEMS?

Cross said the sheriff’s office has a school resource officer program, and to him that is the first step to addressing drug issues. Educating the youth is important. He also wants to see more educational classes through the sheriff’s office to help educate parents and kids regarding drug trends in the community and addiction.

“Another thing is working with our local resources like Discover Hope and Capstone in getting people through treatment, and also working with individuals … so they can better realize and become better citizens,” Cross said of people who may be struggling with drug addictions.

Burdess would like to first start by bringing a K9 unit back to the sheriff’s office. To him, they are tremendous help. He would also like to see more focus on the Mid-Iowa Narcotics Enforcement (MINE) task force working in Jasper County; sometimes Jasper County is often called to other counties.

“I would like to see us put a little more attention in Jasper County and help out the small communities that aren’t able to dedicate officers to specific drug problems,” Burdess said. “And definitely working with the resources in Jasper County for drug addiction.”

Shutts said as the only candidate who has worked narcotics, there are a lot of challenges. It is getting tougher and tougher. Shutts said trying to stop drugs is like trying to fill the Grand Canyon with a garden hose. You’re never going to get it done, but you have to try. Shutts said community involvement is key.

“Let them know what we’re seeing. When I was in the task force, we were going from anhydrous methamphetamine cook to a shake-and-bake,” Shutts said of the changing drug world. “…It’s easier to involve the public and let them know they can contact us and let them know they’re apart of this success program.”

WHY SHOULD VOTERS SELECT YOU OVER OTHER TWO?

Burdess believes the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office needs a fresh set of eyes, and he feels like he would not be at the forum or running for office if there weren’t employees in the sheriff’s office who have confidence in him. He feels like if the current leaders would be doing their job, he would not be here.

“Those individuals wouldn’t have came to me and sought me out and thought the sheriff’s office wasn’t doing its job in protecting its people,” Burdess said. “That’s my goal is to make sure that I have the employees’ backs and I’m looking out for their best interests and providing for their hopes and dreams.”

Shutts said the biggest qualifier for him running for sheriff is experience. He has worked 22 years at the county sheriff’s office, and he claimed 90 percent of the employees have his back and would support him in the role of sheriff. And it’s because they see what he does day-to-day.

“We’ve been in their shoes and we give them the tools we need. I’ve been hit with a lot of projects and challenges during my time, especially in administration. I’ve developed one of the biggest communications projects this county has ever seen, getting all communities on board to change … to new technology,” he said.

Cross said throughout his career he has focused on being someone who wanted to be present with everyone that serves the office and other first responders in the communities. He has also spearheaded a banquet for first responders in Jasper County and the establishment of a training facility.

“Currently that facility has been under construction and we’re working on getting money to finish it, but it’s something that will benefit all the generations that come in the future,” Cross said. “…I’m also somebody who is truthful and faithful to our community. Working for our citizens is the most important thing.”

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.