DECATUR — The two top lieutenants vying to become Macon County's next sheriff weighed in Monday on a battery of topics including Second Amendment rights, mass shootings and the relationship between law enforcement and the community.
Both fielded questions from students and other community members during an hourlong debate co-sponsored by the Decatur School District and Cromwell Radio Group at MacArthur High School. After opening remarks, Jim Root and Tony Brown alternated to offer their responses to questions.
Root, a Republican, is a 1986 Eisenhower High School graduate and Marine Corps veteran. Root began working with the sheriff's office in 1996.
He was promoted to detective after four years and assigned to the Illinois State Police Drug Task Force. He was promoted to sergeant in 2006, supervising deputies in the patrol division, and maintaining and writing policies for the department. Root was promoted to lieutenant in 2009 and assigned to the Macon County Emergency Management Agency.
"My campaign is based on three things: integrity, leadership and accountability," Root said.
Brown, a Democrat, also a 1986 graduate of Eisenhower, joined the Army after high school and was hired by the sheriff's office in 1990.
Since joining the sheriff's office, Brown has been a correctional officer and detective and was promoted to lieutenant in 2008.
In his current role as operations lieutenant, Brown is responsible for the investigations division, jail administration, patrol command and EMA administration.
"I believe my passions are the same passions that many of you have," Brown told the audience. "And tonight is an opportunity to acknowledge what drives us and also challenges us."
Brown defeated fellow sheriff's Lt. Jon Butts for the Democratic candidacy during the March 21 primary election. Root ran unopposed on the primary's Republican ballot. The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 6.
The winner will replace Sheriff Howard Buffett, who was appointed in September 2017 to finish the term of Thomas Schneider, who resigned, citing health reasons.
The following are some of the questions that both Brown and Root were asked during Monday's debate, along with portions of their responses:
School shootings and shootings at other public places are a concern. How would you address the public's concern about mass shootings?
Root: "For the past five years, I've been working very hard to make sure that businesses schools and communities informed about active shooters and what type of threat they are. I've been doing this for emergency management for nine years, but for the past five years, that's been my goal.
... I'm working right now with the city police department regional office of education to put together a response plan for the entire county, so that everybody's operating on the same page. This will give us the ability to have a cohesive response as it relates to different outside agencies like the Decatur Police Department or any other small agencies outside of the city of Decatur."
Brown: "Training. Along with active shooter training, we also have ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) training. We have a few deputies that actually do a wonderful job as far as going out to and actually teaching those trainings to some of our credit unions, or banks, or businesses.
... Also, it's about making sure that all of us as far as EMA or what have you actually have these drills, and to make sure that everyone has a plan. Also, in the mornings as far as our deputies, just to make sure that they actually show up and be present in the schools and that they're visible."
Are you an ardent supporter of the Second Amendment?
Brown: "I am ... Matter of fact, we've got 27 amendments and I swore to protect all of them. I've proudly served my country with the United States Army and I've proudly served my community with the sheriff's office for 28 years all while carrying a weapon."
Root: "Yes, I am ... I think that all of the constitutional amendments are important. The Second Amendment is one that everybody that has the ability, or is legally able to, should have the ability to carry a gun and protect themselves because police cannot be there every day, everywhere."
Across the country, there have been instances of tension between police and African-Americans. What would you do to improve relations in Macon County?
Root: "Transparency and accountability are the two pillars of my campaign. I think what's going to happen is that we need to be transparent to those community organizations so that they trust us.
We need to have a better community outreach program to bring these partnerships together to foster a better understanding of what we do, and to be able to bridge the gap on the needs and what the community wants."
Brown: "Show up ... you have to build those relationships and fortunately for me, I have the opportunity and I have been able to walk on both sides. Therefore, a lot of the relationships that I have in the community have been established for my entire life.
... For years, a lot of people thought that law enforcement was this secret society. It's not. We're just like everyone else. I put my shoes on like everyone else and I put my pants on one leg at a time. Sometimes, people don't understand that you can't judge someone until you walk a mile in their shoes."
You both spoke on the opioid epidemic. How do you respond to the results of Portugal (which decriminalized all drugs in 2001) and others that show that decriminalization shows better results than prohibition?
Brown: "It's one of those conversations that I'll have to be open to. I'm still not in favor of that because of all the other problems that actually causes. This is the United States. We're dealing with different beasts here when it comes to that."
Root: "I know what the impact would be based on the information on legalizing marijuana in Colorado. The data shows that it's a disaster. I wouldn't recommend it (and) I surely wouldn't get behind it. But, as the sheriff, we enforce the laws that are given to us ... and if the legislators say that they're going to decriminalize it, we have no other choice."