Our View: Gary Caruana is the better choice for county sheriff
Winnebago County Sheriff Dick Meyers is proud of his department.
“We’re not broke,” he said Thursday during an “exit interview” with the Editorial Board. “Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. But we’re a damn good shop. I wish other law enforcement agencies were in as good a shape as we are.”
Meyers is going to hand the keys to the department either to Gary Caruana or Bob Springer, the two men on Tuesday’s ballot who hope to replace him.
Meyers’ preferred candidate is Democrat Springer — you’ve probably seen the ads — but we think Republican Caruana is the better choice to move the department forward.
We respect Meyers and agree that the department has run well under his command. We commend him for trying to stay abreast of modern policing methods.
The Sheriff’s Department started using Narcan, the brand name for the opiate antidote naloxone, in June and deputies have saved the lives of 12 people because they had and were trained to administer the drug.
Deputies have Tasers and probably will have body cameras soon, putting the department squarely in the forefront of law enforcement agencies nationwide.
There’s more, and there’s no doubt that Springer, who worked his way up to deputy chief during a more than 30-year career in the Sheriff’s Department, could take over the job on Day One. It would be a smooth transition and Springer wouldn’t have much of a learning curve. He’s a strong candidate.
Nevertheless, we think Caruana would bring a fresh set of eyes to the department and might be able to see opportunities that those who have worked inside the department for a long time might not recognize and implement appropriate changes.
Caruana has experience in public- and private-sector law enforcement. He worked in the Sheriff’s Department for eight years before landing a job with United Parcel Service. He was corporate security manager at UPS, a job that had him working on budgets and security.
The budget will be an issue for whomever replaces Meyers. Meyers said his budget was reduced 16 of the 17 years he was sheriff and faces a $1.1 million deficit in this budget cycle. Caruana’s budgeting expertise will be tested if he wins.
There are dozens of law enforcement agencies in the county with Rockford being the largest. Cooperation with agencies large and small is important for the next sheriff.
“This department does not have a problem with cooperation with any department in this area. Period,” Meyers said. He was referring to reports that Rockford and county administrators don’t get along.
“If you have a Rockford cop and a county deputy who know the streets, that’s an unbeatable combination,” he said.
The next sheriff needs to use that “unbeatable combination” to further crime-fighting efforts in the region and to continue the inter-department cooperation Meyers is so proud of.
Meyers recognizes there’s little diversity in the department, an issue his successor needs to address. There are no female detectives, and corrections officers feel they get stuck in the jail with little hope of advancing to street work.
Meyers is making good on his promise to keep working until Nov. 30, his scheduled last day on the job. He says that he will work with whomever wins Tuesday and that the sheriff is just one “part of a system” of law enforcement.
He cautions that the new sheriff can try new things but can’t forget the tradition of law enforcement: catch and arrest the bad guys.
Although we think Caruana and Springer both could maintain that tradition, we think Caruana’s breadth of experience and newcomer’s perspective are a better fit. He is endorsed.