BILL PUETT PICTURE FROM EDITORIAL BOARD (copy)

Bill Puett, the incumbent Buchanan County sheriff, is seeking another four years.

The race for Buchanan County sheriff features two experienced law enforcement professionals.

Bill Puett has 33 years of experience with the Buchanan County Sheriff’s Office, the last four as sheriff. He is seeking a second four-year term.

Keith Dudley served in law enforcement for 18 years. He has experience addressing crime at the street level with the St. Joseph Police Department.

The community would be well served by either one. The candidates, both Republicans, promise to get tough on crime and express a desire to engage with the community.

If elected, Dudley would become the first Buchanan County sheriff in decades who didn’t rise through the department’s ranks. He promises to bring an outsider’s perspective and a shift in culture, citing a number of departures in recent years.

A total of 36 deputies have left in the last three and a half years, including 10 through retirement, according to the department’s own figures.

Dudley, a sergeant with the SJPD, vows to take a more proactive role in patrolling the community for safety. In a significant shift, he vows to use county sheriff’s deputies, who traditionally operate outside the city limits, inside St. Joseph where the majority of crime occurs.

Puett can run on experience in the management of more than 100 employees and a budget of more than $8 million. His background gives him an understanding of the different areas of responsibility within the department, including patrol/criminal investigations and jail operations. Historically, jail and patrol operations seem to pull the department in different directions in terms of focus and resources.

With much to like about both candidates, the News-Press nevertheless has decided to endorse Puett for four more years. One reason is skepticism about Dudley’s plan to devote more resources to increased patrols within the city and how that would affect enforcement in rural areas and small towns, as well as jail operations and civil service.

We also believe that Puett’s decision to use more civilian employees in the jail, as opposed to certified law enforcement officers, shows financial responsibility and frees up resources for investigations, patrols or civil processing. He is honest, noting that the creation of an arrest warrants program for outstanding warrants brought mixed results.

The role sheriff is technocratic, not political, and therefore the case for change must be strong. While Dudley makes a convincing case in regard to his own experience and character, the argument for a change at the top is lacking.

The winner of Tuesday’s election will become sheriff for the next four years, because there is no Democratic candidate. It is a shame this is not a non-partisan election that gives all registered voters a voice.