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McHenry County sheriff's candidates Bill Prim, Jim Harrison look to future of office

H. Rick Bamman - hbamman@shawmedia.com  
McHenry County Sheriff Candidate Bill Prim heads to his next appointment after stopping for coffee in Crystal Lake on Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014. Prim, a 27-year veteran police officer, spent much of his career in investigations – focusing much of those efforts on drugs and asset forfeitures. He eventually retired as commander from the Des Plaines Police Department and currently works in security at the Lake County Courthouse.
H. Rick Bamman - hbamman@shawmedia.com McHenry County Sheriff Candidate Bill Prim heads to his next appointment after stopping for coffee in Crystal Lake on Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014. Prim, a 27-year veteran police officer, spent much of his career in investigations – focusing much of those efforts on drugs and asset forfeitures. He eventually retired as commander from the Des Plaines Police Department and currently works in security at the Lake County Courthouse.

CRYSTAL LAKE – The two candidates vying to become the next McHenry County sheriff have different views about the future of the office.

In a meeting with the Northwest Herald's Editorial Board this week, Bill Prim and Jim Harrison each laid out their respective plans to change the direction of the office — an office that will see its first new sheriff in 17 years.

Republican candidate Bill Prim has focused his campaign on a plan to expand a Sheriff's Office volunteer base to help with security at events, traffic detail, or in the event of a natural disaster. He said its benefits are three-fold: to engage the community, build trust and improve the office's image.

"I've said from the beginning, the biggest resource that goes untapped in this county is its residents," said Prim, a retired Des Plaines police commander.

Independent candidate Jim Harrison, a Woodstock-based attorney, criticized the volunteer program, saying the Sheriff's Office formerly had a similar auxiliary police force that was axed when the Sheriff's Office became CALEA accredited, effectively eliminating its need. CALEA, or Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies, was formed to address accountability, liability, performance and community partnership issues in law enforcement.

"The problem with the auxiliary [program] is that some folks are just interested in guns and badges," Harrison said. "… That is a big potential source for liability. Most departments need a training mechanism in place, and that doesn't come for free."

Both candidates criticized the county's nearly 10-year-old contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to house immigrants awaiting deportation proceedings. Commonly called the bed rental program, the contract expires in October next year.

Harrison doesn't see the arrangement being sustainable in the long run.

Harrison is eyeing a different population for the vacancy that could be created by a lack of ICE detainees.

"The focus shouldn't be on this ICE contract, which really only serves the people of McHenry County because it made money," Harrison said. "… How can we preserve this manpower? What can we do that we are not doing to provide a service to McHenry County? …The thing I think is in our future is a juvenile detention facility."

Harrison, however, recognizes the speed bumps preventing that vision from being realized. There are certain requirements for housing juveniles apart from the adult population that might not jibe with the jail's current layout, he acknowledged.

Prim also attacked the contract, but stopped short of outlining his intentions without seeing the contract's costs, or whether it's making money. County officials haven't been forthright with the figures, Prim said. Some say it's making a slight profit, others claim its losing millions.

"Obviously there's a problem there," Prim said. "Something needs to be done to stop the bleeding."

"You have to look at ways to redeploy your services," he continued. " ... In the end you'll have to figure out a way to shrink your services. But you can't have a plan until you have the actual numbers."

Both men are competing to fill a role held by Sheriff Keith Nygren, who opted to retire instead of seeking a fifth term. Prim narrowly beat Nygren's preferred successor Undersheriff Andrew Zinke in the spring primary. The general election is Nov. 4.

(Note to readers: This story was corrected to eliminate a quote that should not have been attributed to Harrison.)

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