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Will County sheriff hopefuls stress efficiency

Nick Ficarello

Nick Ficarello

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Updated: April 4, 2014 6:19AM



With Will County Sheriff Paul Kaupas declining to seek a fourth term, five current and retired sheriff’s officials are hoping to replace him.

Vying for the Republican nomination in the March 18 primary are retired Deputy Chief Nick Ficarello and current Deputy Chief Ken Kaupas, cousin of the sheriff.

Three Democratic candidates are Sgt. Mike Kelley, Lt. Steve Egan and retired Lt. Ed Bradley.

In a department that has been beset with bungled investigations, the theft of heroin as stored evidence and tight budget constraints, candidates said they are willing and able to make the sheriff’s operations more efficient.

Ficarello, a lifelong Will County resident, worked his way up through the ranks as he served more than 31 years in the sheriff’s department, retiring in 2009.

The biggest challenge is the budget, he said, proposing a “zero-based” budgeting system, which covers the essentials. Instead of carrying over budget line items, each expenditure would have to be justified, which not only would cut fat but provide transparency to the public, Ficarello said.

He would improve response times by establishing a countywide communication system for all police departments in the county, allowing the closest squad to respond, regardless of the jurisdiction. At present, unless another police department requests assistance, “we have no idea what is going on,” he said.

In the drug fight, he would bring back the department’s canine unit and assign more officers to state and federal drug task forces.

Ficarello would form a special victims unit and assign specially trained deputies to handle domestic violence, sex crimes, and crimes against children, special needs victims and the elderly.

After working in the county jail, Ficarello said he realized a need to put nonviolent misdemeanor offenders to work, teach them job skills and enroll them in GED classes.

The “clear path” program he proposed would put inmates in a supervised work environment in government or nonprofit organizations.

More information is available at ficarelloforsheriff.com

The other Republican on the ballot is Deputy Chief Ken Kaupas, who was appointed to the department in December 2010, after retiring as a captain from the Illinois State Police after 26 years.

With his state police experience, he said he can bring an “outside perspective” to the department and build relationships with other police departments.

In his role as deputy chief, Kaupas said he deals with the budget constraints and has sought grant funding for the sheriff’s department.

The first issue is crime reduction, he said, adding that the county’s crime rate is going down.

There are improvements that can better serve the public that do not cost money, such as reassigning manpower, working jointly with other police departments and getting deputies “out of the car and into the community more,” he said.

They can look at where and when crime is occurring and staff accordingly, Kaupas said.

A county-wide communication system is a “worthy project, but there are no funds for it,” he said.

To combat the heroin epidemic, he would train patrol deputies in drug investigation techniques, build on existing task forces and share information with other departments.

More information is available at kenkaupasforsheriff.com.

Democratic candidate Kelley said his first priority would be to tackle the evidence storage problems that resulted in the theft of more than three kilos of heroin several years ago.

He would consolidate evidence storage into one secure building instead of the current four separate structures and restore training for personnel responsible for storing and cataloging evidence to ensure that the highest security standards are met.

“The Will County Sheriff’s Department should be a major force in solving the heroin epidemic, not contributing to the crisis,” Kelley said in a news release.

Kelley could not be reached for comment, but according to his website, his goal is to raise morale and “breathe new life into the sheriff’s department by streamlining and modernizing the way we provide services to our citizens.”

He also would put more deputies and detectives on the streets to combat the heroin epidemic.

The 25-year veteran of the sheriff’s department has worked in almost every division within the department, including patrol, courthouse security, the county jail and his current assignment: investigations.

Kelley is a Lockport Township trustee and has served as a Lockport alderman and Lockport Township collector.

More information is available at mikekelleyforwillcountysheriff.com

With 40 years policing experience, including 25 years with the sheriff’s department, Egan said he “knows where the problems are” and has experience in all facets of the department. He lost to Paul Kaupas four years ago when he ran as a Republican.

To improve response times, he would reorganize the department, put deputies on the street than behind a desk and establish 12-hour shifts, giving them 10 per cent more manpower at no additional cost, he said.

A big issue for Egan is transforming the underused sheriff’s substation in Crete into a full-service 24-hour facility. The building recently was remodeled and furnished, yet operates only as a temporary holding cell from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., he said.

All deputies serving eastern Will County work out of the downtown Joliet office or the Laraway Road station, which wastes time and money, Egan said.

To battle the heroin epidemic, he would reassign officers to a drug interdiction team and restore the canine unit. Will County is a “major source” for drug trafficking along the I-55 and I-80 corridors and it “must stop here,” he said.

The candidate also wants to put nonviolent inmates to work, restore the DARE program and senior programs and educate youth on drugs and bullying.

More information is available at eganforsheriff.com.

Bradley, who lost in the Democratic primary four years ago, retired from the sheriff’s department as a lieutenant in 2009 and now is police chief in University Park.

He is back in the running because he has a “passion for fairness, justice and change,” he said.

“I have done everything. I understand the nuts and bolts of law enforcement,” he said.

Bradley said he wants to “restore integrity” to a department the image of which has been tarnished by alleged problems with the Riley Fox investigation and Operation Sleepover, which resulted in lawsuits over false charges.

Morale has to be restored as well, he said.

“You cannot have one fiasco after another. If people are not happy at work, they become inefficient,” Bradley said.

He said fiscal responsibility is lacking in the department and he would create a financial team to address funding issues.

Bradley, like Egan, said he would like to provide more services to eastern Will County but added that staffing the Crete station 24 hours a day would be “hard to do” financially.

He would add deputies to patrols and the jail.

More information is available at edbradleyforsheriff.com.



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