The race for Winnebago County Sheriff is a re-match for two of the candidates, as incumbent Sheriff Gary Caruana takes on his challenger from four years ago, retired Deputy Chief Bob Springer.
Both men agree that the budget is one of the biggest challenges facing the Sheriff’s Department.
The Winnebago County Board asked Caruana to cut $4.3 million from his 2018 budget, a move which, at times, put him at odds with the board and drew criticism from his opponent.
“I think the Sheriff, the current sheriff, is trying to build a department that he wants and then goes to the board and says, ‘Fund me, whether you can or not.’ And I’m saying, I’m the kind of person that, I’m waiting for the board to give me my budget and I’m going to try and build a department around that,” Springer said. “We’ve never had another elected official act that irresponsible with a budget.”
Caruana said, “He says…I was defiant. There was no defiancy (sp) in me not getting down to it that year. Like I said, over this next year we’re gonna realize that. It’s about being practical. That’s one of the practicalities. What is your human cost? Human cost and protecting the people and the service. There’s a lot of service elements that we have to deal with.”
Caruana says he believes in a regional approach to policing, adding he has a great working relationship with Rockford Police Chief Dan O’Shea.
“We’re on the Joint Task Force together,” Caruana said. “[We] have a great relationship with the city, Dan and I. [We] actually did the ‘Brothers in Blue’ thing, which made us closer and we got the message out that, hey, we’re working together.”
But Springer believes there’s more that can be done.
“How about working with Rockford? How about taking a deputy and putting it in a car with a city officer? It’s called a ‘force multiplier.’ Instead of just unilaterally taking ten deputies and putting them in Rockford, they don’t answer calls. They really don’t affect Rockford’s crime rate at all,” Springer said. “Rockford has a very good 300+ man department with a very good chief. They’re responsible for Rockford, but as sheriff, I should support them and help them solve their problems.”
Caruana says he has inherited a culture that had been in place for more than 30 years, and he says change is difficult.
“We’re developing a different model, a different mouse trap, so to speak, that’s going to work better,” Caruana said. “Am I hurting some feelings and stepping on some people’s feet as I am changing that culture? Yeah.”