by Mike Kroll
The Zephyr, Galesburg
At the age of 54 and after 33 years in law enforcement, an entire career with the Galesburg Police Department, Dave Clague wasn't yet ready to retire but he understood all too well that his future with the GPD was extremely limited. This is undoubtedly why Clague was immediately interested in the prospect of becoming Knox County Sheriff once it became known that former Sheriff Jim Thompson was planning to retire.
Although relatively apolitical Clague had taken Republican ballots in previous primary campaigns and was therefore considered a Republican by many Democratic loyalists and therefore ineligible to be appointed as the interim Sheriff following the retirement of Thompson, a Democrat. Clague insisted he was a Democrat and an opinion from the Illinois Attorney General's office essentially said that there was no litmus test of party membership that superseded a person's declaration of membership. Clague was thus free to seek both the support of county Democratic party members and the nomination from county board chair Alan Pickrel, he was successful on both fronts and now serves as interim Sheriff of Knox County.
Obtaining the interim appointment, while no guarantee of success at the polls, does provide Clague with a head start to winning election as Knox County Sheriff in 2008. He has committed himself to running in the 2008 Democratic primary for Sheriff and will almost certainly face opposition from other Democratic contenders. He will also face a Republican challenger as multiple candidates are already committing themselves to running in the Republican primary for Sheriff. The 2008 Knox County Sheriff's race is developing into one of the strongest contested local races of the upcoming election year.
Meanwhile, Sheriff Clague has been on the job just two weeks so far. “Every day I'm getting more settled in and becoming more comfortable with this position. It is much different from my experience with the Galesburg Police Department and I have quickly learned that it is a very political role. I have never spent so much time in meetings as is required of the Sheriff and the scope of this office's law enforcement role is much broader than I am used to yet we have fewer resources available. In my time here I have already learned that being Sheriff is much more of a balancing act.”
In 2006 when former Galesburg Police Chief John Schlaf retired Clague through his name into contention for that job, along with some of his GPD colleagues. Clague wasn't chosen and he returned to Washington, D.C. To complete a “police executive fellowship program” with the FBI as a fellow on the National Joint Terrorism Task Force. When he returned from this fellowship Clague found that he was not to resume his previous position as Special Operations Lieutenant with the GPD but instead was assigned to third shift patrol commander. This was his first return to patrol duties since 1980 when Clague first became an investigator with the GPD and it wasn't a welcome new assignment. That is why Clague retired from the GPD earlier this year but without any intention of actually “retiring” at all. “I knew I wasn't ready to give up law enforcement just yet but I needed to pursue something different than the GPD.”
The Knox County Sheriff's Department is a close knit group composed of four components. Corrections officers who operate the county jail, courthouse security officers, patrol deputies and investigators. None of these groups are sufficiently large to perform up to the level many of us would like but then few would volunteer to pay the necessary additional tax dollars to make this possible. Instead, whomever the Sheriff is much balance the demands put on his department against the available resources. In recent years Knox County has suffered from limited financial resources and some areas of the county budget have not been able to get as much money as that department felt they needed and this included the Sheriff's department. During his brief time as acting Sheriff Knox County Coroner Mark Thomas made it his goal to create and present a realistic budget for the Sheriff's department. While the Knox County Board hasn't yet settled on a new budget Clague will have to live within the budget created by Thomas or most likely less if the county board reduces it due to limited available funds.
One thing that remains constant is that the number of deputies available for road patrol has never been enough. While the county population has decreased in recent years the size of the county remains at approximately 720 square miles and most of that is the responsibility of the Sheriff's department. “In a city like Galesburg we frequently have more officers on patrol in a much more compact area than the Sheriff has deputies to cover the entire county. Fewer officers plus a larger territory also means that available backup may be more than a half-hour away. This is one of the reasons deputies take their squad cars home. They are expected to be available to respond from home when necessary to cover an incident or backup a fellow officer even if they are off duty. We also depend upon the Illinois State Police and small town police officers for backup. Every police officer in Knox County should also be a sworn deputy in the Sheriff's department for this purpose and many already are.”
“Patrol is the most visible task the Sheriff's office performs yet it is also one that is not mandated by state law. If money becomes tighter we must operate the jail and courthouse but road patrol and investigations are really a matter of local priority and taxpayer understanding. For Knox County residents outside of Galesburg the Knox County Sheriff's Department is frequently the first responder to any emergency incident and primarily responsible for investigating crimes. Sheriff's deputies are often the only lifeline for rural elderly and the first available emergency medical treatment. While these tasks may not be required by law I see them as an obligation to our residents that must be taken very seriously.”
Clague has seen firsthand the history of problems that once plagued the Knox County Jail and is very happy to be inheriting the new jail. While there remain areas for improvement the new jail is a much better and larger operation than its predecessor and the lack of inmate incidents compared to the prior jail speaks volumes about the improvements. The size has also permitted the Sheriff to contract with the United States Marshall's Service to temporarily house Federal prisoners. “The Federal inmate program is not only cost effective but a real source of net income for the county up to about 30-32 inmates. I hope we can continue this program because it is good for both my department and the county as a whole.”
Galesburg and Knox County have long suffered from poor intergovernment relations but Clague would like to see that change between his new department and his old department. “We owe it to the citizens to maintain strong relationships with all area law enforcement agencies and that includes the Galesburg Police Department. I will seek to reestablish that relationship and I hope to make greater use of the state police crime scene technician as well. Criminals don't pay much mind to political borders and we need to work together for every agencies benefit. To the best of my knowledge the Sheriff's department already has strong relationships with Sheriffs in neighboring counties and I intend to build upon that.”
“I'm taking over a department of professionals that currently works well. As Sheriff it will be my task to build upon this foundation. I see this as both a new life challenge and a step up in responsibility. My plan is to earn the respect and support of the residents of Knox County and win the office of Sheriff in the 2008 election.”