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by Lisa Moody Breslin; photography by Walter P. Calahan

On November 30, Captain Jim DeWees retired from Maryland State Police and for 24 hours, for the first time in more than 25 years, he was not employed in law enforcement. So he slept, and slept a lot. On December 1, after getting some much-needed rest and a few things done around the house, he was sworn in as Carroll County Sheriff, a position for which he was elected on November 4, 2014. DeWees has a Masters of Arts in Human Resources from Seton Hall University, a Bachelors of Arts from Mt. St. Mary’s University, certification from Northwestern University School of Police Staff & Command, and a diploma from South Carroll High School (1988). He and his wife, Heather, proudly parent and often coach from courtside, three children: Mackenzie, Brett and Gavin. The family lives in Manchester with two dogs (Bubba and Zoey) and one cat (Bullet).

What is it like to be in law enforcement right now as tensions grow?
There have always been segments of the population that don’t like or trust the police. In Carroll County it’s different. People have a high admiration for law enforcement and public service workers. Carroll County is where an awful lot of law enforcement officers from numerous local, state & federal agencies decide to live and raise their families. It is important for me and my deputies to recognize what is going on nationally and never take the respect we have here for granted. I always remind the deputies that they have community support and it is incredibly important to maintain that public trust. When law enforcement loses faith in the community it serves, situations become very dangerous. It only takes one incident to create a bandwagon effect. Fortunately, this has not happened in our county and will not happen while I’m sheriff.

Congratulations on your victory and for being sworn in on December 1. What was your first impression when you began?
This is an organization full of wonderful people who do outstanding work for the public they serve. I’ve been extremely impressed with the quality of people, from the deputies who work the road and in the detention center, to the civilian employees who support all aspects of the operation. My major concern internally has been the facilities the organization has to work out of. The detention center is outdated and overcrowded, and patrol deputies are working out of the basement of the detention center. Right now the facilities do not mirror a nationally accredited sheriff’s office and need dire attention soon.

When you ran for office your top priorities were to lessen repeat offenders and tackle the drug problem. Have those priorities shifted and, if so, why?
Some of the priorities had to shift, but they remain priorities. As I gain a better grasp of the organization, its needs, the priorities became linked to two sides: priorities that support the rank and file and those that support the community. Morale within the organization is linked to productivity and how friendly deputies and staff are with the public they serve.

Based on those two sides and the necessary shift in priorities, what was one of the first and most effective decisions you made?
I’ve been able to help out the deputies, which will also help out the community. I gave deputies the privilege of driving patrol cars while off duty. This decision is a force multiplier: the deputies will be omnipresent and will handle incidents while off duty that previously they wouldn’t have known about and driven right past. I want them to take the patrol cars to the malls and shopping centers and to get coffee. The more they and their cars are seen it becomes a bigger deterrent of criminal activity or traffic violations.

What is the approximate budget impact?
There’s going to be a modest fiscal impact by allowing deputies to operate their vehicles while off duty. Additional fuel & maintenance are a given. But it’s hard to put a price tag on having more officers out in the community for more time. I am also in the process of granting the correctional deputies a set of procedural rights that are similar to those that patrol deputies and law enforcement officers throughout the nation are afforded. The Correctional Officers Bill of Rights (COBR) mirrors that of the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBR). I felt that the correctional deputies deserved similar due process when it came to internal and administrative complaints they were being accused of. Very few detention centers in the state and throughout the country offer these rights to their correction deputies. These are hardworking men and women who deserve these rights, and I’m proud to offer them to them.

With regard to priorities linked to the community, what is your top priority?
The drug issue, which sparks the rise in crime. Carroll is still one of the safest counties in the nation, but there is an emerging drug issue that needs to be dealt with. With the help of the commissioners, I have to create a system that targets the street level offender. We have to make life really uncomfortable for drug dealers who set up in Carroll County. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, most people had to drive to Baltimore; but now, the dealers set up here. They get twice as much for heroin with less violence. Historically, we’d see domestic-related murders, but now we have drug-related murders and gang members killing each other. One of these incidents in a county that rarely experiences this type of crime is one too many.

What are some of your earliest musings about tackling the drug issue?
My job is to identify the dealers land lock them up; and then we need to address addiction-related issues. Arresting people will not solve the problem. Approximately 80 percent of prisoners are there for addiction-related issues, for crimes to support their addictions. Treatment needs to be a huge component – not locking them up. It is my responsibility to work with the state’s attorney, judges, commissioners, social workers, health care folks, educators; it is all of our responsibility to get them treatment. If we bring good people together then funding will come to meet the particular needs in our county.
How have the changes in Maryland laws about marijuana affected enforcement and attitudes about pot here?
The new laws have not changed what we are doing. There is a change in whether possession is a civil or a criminal charge, depending on the amount possessed, but it does not change how we enforce the laws in this county. In other states, like Colorado, that allow recreational use, enforcement is much different. If we bordered states that had more liberal laws, things would be different. But we still enforce and we constantly educate deputies about the new law passed. I do believe that pot use forces riskier behaviors and, especially at a young age, if you allow people to do these things, they will progress to harder drugs.

What do you tell your own children about pot use?
My children have been exposed to incidents and the circumstances that surround them more than most children their age. I come home with horrific stories. They know the risks of marijuana and drug use. Besides the harm it does to your mind and body, they know I’ll whip their butts for doing something that intentionally harms them or their future. I’m no dummy, they’ll make mistakes. But, I want them to recognize the most catastrophic mistakes as they are unfolding in front of them and make the decision to walk away or say no.

How do you think your colleagues describe you as their boss?
I hope they would confirm that they love working for me. I hope they would describe me as a compassionate leader who has done what they are doing and understands. I’ve spent my years as a state trooper taking on more and more responsibility with each rank I obtained. As a supervisor, I never went home when one of my troopers had to stay over for an arrest or incident; as a commander, I always showed the troopers and civilian employees that I appreciated and respected the work that they did. I never ran from responsibility or taking responsibility for my actions. Making the tough decisions throughout my career, and taking on difficult tasks, assignments or operations earned me the respect of the men and women I led during my career. In law enforcement, the men and women you lead will follow you under two circumstances; out of obligation for your rank or out of respect for the person holding the rank. I believe I earned the respect of the men and women I led and will do my best to do the same in my new role as sheriff.

How do you unwind?
I love being with my family and following my kids. You’ll see me at every game. I love to watch my wife coach. I sit behind the bench and if the ref is not doing well, I let them know. Once I started yelling at the ref and he told my wife that if she didn’t shut me up, he would give her team a technical foul. She quickly said, “I don’t know that man!” I love watching the two of them. I used to sit and watch Heather when she played at Mount Saint Mary’s College. My daughter plays a lot like her. The boys and I follow her high school and AAU basketball team all over the country. I have a great life that moves 100 mph.

When you are down how do you lift yourself up?
It’s important for people to see the same person every day. I can’t show up high fiving them one day and then low the next. They need the same person every day; they need to know who they are getting. Yet, at the same time, I have highs and lows. I have my own issues. To offer that consistency, I lean on mentors, folks older than me, to bring me up. I have surrounded myself with smart and good people, including my wife. She and the others don’t hold back. She calls me out if I’m off. My father [Thomas Charles DeWees] grounded me too. He once told me that one of the ways he got through Vietnam was by listening to Elvis songs. So when I want to remember him and get through a stressful time, I throw Elvis live in my CD player.

Favorite music?
Everything. I have several favorite radio stations. My wife would say that 80’s music is my favorite. I do love 80’s music for the memories. I also love early Elvis songs. He had such a pure voice.

Inspirational movies?
I love Rudy. I also like dumb movies that make me laugh, like Naked Guns and Airplane.

Do you sleep well?
I do not. I try to get four or five hours when I can, but now that I have patrol and correctional deputies working 24/7 I worry at night. When I need rest, I’ll stop and rest and I do so quickly. I will often take fifteen minute or half hour naps that allow me to sustain. It’s been years since I’ve slept well, besides, do you ever really sleep right after you’ve had children? My mom will tell you she still worries about me and my siblings regardless of our age. I do go on vacations but I’ve always been in a position with the state police, and now as sheriff, that requires me to be available regardless of where I am. My family and our friends are extremely understanding when I have to leave vacation early or drop the kids off abruptly because an incident is unfolding.

Your life gives new meaning to it taking a village to raise children.
The community support has been indescribably vast. Our children play on many sports teams and there has always been a community of parents who understand that I’m a guy who needs to go on a moment’s notice. They help pick up my kids, keep them at their homes. There has never been a shortage of people who want to help out the DeWees kids. It has been remarkable. I am extremely appreciative of the North Carroll Community, the parents and coaches of my children. I trust them emphatically.

 

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