West Virginia Politics WV Elections 2020

#60-Interview with Steve Cox-Independent Candidate for Sheriff-Jefferson County WV

Learn about Steve Cox’s diverse law enforcement experience and his view of law enforcement in Jefferson County WV.

Listen to the Podcast

Steve Cox Interview Excerpts

Steve Cox: Great, thanks. Thanks for having me on. Again, my name is Steve Cox, I am a candidate for Sheriff of Jefferson County. I’m an independent candidate, which means I am politically unaffiliated, and I’ve been like that since the day that I registered as a voter, so I’m a life-long independent individual. On top of that, my feel about law enforcement is, politics shouldn’t be involved in that arena. So I like the fact that I’m an independent and I’m running for Sheriff using my background and experience.

Richard: Okay, yeah. So right now, here in Jefferson County, what do you think the biggest issue is? Right at the moment for the law enforcement or Sheriff’s department.

Steve Cox: It’s addiction. Hands down. Our drug problem; we’ve had a war on drugs. I think that phrase was kind of coined with Ronald Reagan, so we’ve been going through this war drugs for a very long time. And we’ve been able to do a lot of good things with it, but we can’t get ahead of it. And it’s because of this one component that’s in there, it’s called addiction. We cannot police our way out of the war on drugs, if we continue to ignore addiction. And I’ve been talking about this, and I’ve actually been talking about it for a very long time, much longer, than I’ve even been running for sheriff. If we don’t get a handle on addiction, we don’t help with addiction, and when I say we, I mean the government, we don’t try to help the addiction, we are never really going to make any good solid headway in the war on drugs. Our county, I’m not speaking nationwide, but our county, that is our county’s largest problem. It absolutely drives most of the crime that happens in this county, and I say that with confidence, using my 20 plus years in law enforcement locally and everywhere else, to see that it is our number one issue.

Richard: How did we get here? I work on some health issues, not particularly addiction, like Health Freedom and vaccine choice. There’s some interplay because they involve large pharmaceutical companies. A good percentage of people got addicted to prescription pain killers. What do you think about that? Is that a big factor? Or not really?

Steve Cox: Well, it’s a horrible thing. And it’s true. A lot of this stems from prescribed medicines. We in law enforcement, we know that people will actually jump on an airplane and fly to other states and scoop up a bunch of prescriptions, and I’m talking about a written prescription, back in the old days a written prescription, and they will collect a bunch of these up. They’ll obtain the prescriptions and they’ll come back to West Virginia and sell them. That’s just one method, but that’s something that probably was at least a big thing going back about five to 10 years ago. It was one way, probably a major way, that a lot of that was coming into our area. But prescription drugs is no doubt a huge factor in our addiction problem right now. And when those prescriptions run out, those addicts tend to run over to the illicit side of things and get those ____.

Richard: Since you’re talking about a more holistic approach on your website too, and you can’t really combat it, well, to some extent you can, through arresting people or jailing them. It seems like it exploded in the last decade, right, where this whole prescription drug thing, where they didn’t used to be opioids prescribed. I mean, I guess at least 10 or more years ago than that, and now it’s like we’ve got this huge mess. Should more be done on the legislative side or the business side? Did profit motive cause, at the expense of the health of the society cause a lot of this?

Steve Cox: I would hope that health officials and pharmaceuticals would not have pushed the use of these drugs to gain pure profit. It probably has happened, but that would be a very big issue. And to go back to the legislative side of things, I do think that this is an area, and I’m not for bigger, more government, but I think that is one of those areas where government does exist to make things better for us. And I think that they should get involved and see what we can do about introducing some legislation that would help prevent that problem. However, I will say that the medical field, the doctors themselves making these prescriptions, computer related programs that are tracking prescriptions, have helped a great deal. It’s just not enough. It’s like, telling police that you’re doing a great job, but… we still have a drug crisis. Yes, we all understand this, and I’d like to see that it doesn’t fall squarely always on law enforcement. It’s got to be shared. And that’s where I say addiction, addiction services and that sort of thing. We’ve got to get something done with that, even like you were saying at the legislative side. Why can’t we get some government assistance in legislation that helps with addiction?

Richard: I remember reading not so long ago about the illicit drug prescribers. Some town in West Virginia, I wasn’t here, Jefferson County, they got like 6 million or 60 million or some ridiculous number of prescriptions that it would have been enough for every person in the county to have like 50 pills or something. It was crazy.

Steve Cox: There’s doctors out there who do make money just based on passing out prescriptions. And I’ve heard about these doctors who have issued and millions and millions and millions of pills to a handful of people.

Richard: The profit thing, being in the health freedom, which is kind of another issue, we meaning like vaccination choice, that kind of thing. I’ve seen some nexus that these profit motives can actually go awry.

Steve Cox: I don’t want to throw a bunch of mud at politicians, but I don’t think that anybody is blind. And most all people have seen how politicians pockets get filled with money, even by pharmaceutical companies that are pushing for the wrong reason.

Richard: Campaign donations. That’s definitely a factor. Absolutely. Well, on another topic, with the current COVID 19 situation, there’s been different restrictions put in place by the governor and the health department. I had a funny experience on Memorial Day. I went down to Moulton Par. I live in Shannondale, and decided to have a picnic down there with a friend. I noticed that they had removed all the tables. I thought, why did they waste your money removing all of the tables. Anyway, the point was, the sign said the park was closed. But there were people sitting around anyway, and honestly, nobody was bothering them. Would you, as a law enforcement official, try to enforce dubious mandates? For instance, ‘Okay, this parks closed’, or even, this has happened in other jurisdictions, I know it happened in Berkeley County. Some store said, Okay, well, you know you violated a barber shop, in fact, you violated our mandate. You have to be closed. So presumably the Sheriff would be sent out to close that store. How would you handle things like that?

Steve Cox: Let’s talk directly to the executive orders that came down. There is nothing in these executive orders that allow or give the power to law enforcement to have any enforcement role in that, at all. What we’ve seen locally, for instance, in Shepherdstown, the town council issued orders to the Shepherdstown Police Department. We need to remember that the police departments are run by the elected mayor. So when the council got together, they and the mayor decided that they were going to enforce face mask regulations that they couldn’t necessarily enforce, they decided they were going to use the law of that covers trespassing. If you’re asked to put a face mask on and you fail to do so, they’re going to call the police on you. Can they do that? Well, if you refuse to leave their store, yes, you can be arrested for trespassing. But, we shouldn’t rely on police to police this issue. As a sheriff, if I were to become elected Sheriff, I will not be sending my deputies on calls that initiate from the refusal to wear face masks. I know a lot of people would say that I’m now completely against face mask.

That’s not the issue here. I encourage everybody to wear a face mask I wear then myself. However, it is not going to be something that you’re going to have me responding to. Once you tell people, yes, call us, we’re going to come and make somebody where a face mask, you’re going to get thousands of calls. And I don’t simply have time to enforce face masks. I will not do it.

Richard: Okay, that’s clear.

Steve Cox: To make things clear, if you allow me to get into this a little bit more.

Richard: Sure, go ahead.

Steve Cox: On my Facebook page, you’ll see a writing that I put up many months ago, and it was in response to Shepherdstown’s request to the law enforcement to get involved in this. And I put it out and I actually got a lot of positive comments about it. I had a few that were negative. People, I think, tried to twist it a little bit and talk about the fact that I don’t care about people’s property rights, and that’s a 100% wrong. Because, if you go back maybe a month or so, you’ll see that I’ve made a posting about erecting illegal signs on other people’s property.

Richard: I did see that.

Steve Cox: I pointed this out and tried to explain to everybody what the laws are. And so… No, property rights are property rights, but what I wanted to explain is, shop owners, business owners, you don’t want to get involved enforcing face masks on people. What if there’s a guardian and a child in a store. This child has an issue with wearing a mask, whether it be a disability or something like that. And one of the examples brought to me was a child with Downs’s syndrome. And they were taking the child out to socialize. It’s education, it was life experiences for socializing. Wouldn’t you feel really bad if you were the one that walked up to the parent and said ‘Your kid has to have a mask on to me in my store’, and they said, ‘Well, listen, we’re just trying to do our thing’, they say ‘well leave’ and it gets all heated, that law enforcement shows up and now law enforcement is, ‘Well’. We just took the socialization part of this experience and decreased that child’s social activity and awareness, and we just dropped that level. We just destroyed anything that was even happened that day or maybe many days before that, because somebody called the law enforcement. Or, there’s a case out there where two people in a store got into an argument, and one of the individuals pulled out a knife and stabbed the other person. That turned into a pursuit. Law enforcement got involved. And that individual was so enraged about what happened that they charged law enforcement and law enforcement discharged their weapons and that person is now dead.

And now we have an officer with a death on their hands because of a silly face mask issue that somebody had. How are we going to conduct ourselves, what are we going to think, when that type of situation comes here to Jefferson County, and it becomes a national news issue, and we bring all of that drama and all of that attention down on us, and we have the rioting and all that type of stuff that goes along with these situations. So arguing and fussing over face masks just isn’t worth it in the long run. And as Sheriff, I simply am not going to get involved with it. And shutting down businesses, we saw that right here in Jefferson County. The Sheriff got involved with shutting down a business. What business of the Sheriff’s is that? It’s none. Absolutely none. It’s a health department issue. If, and only when, the health department has an issue and they try to shut that down, and that individual declines to cooperate and they take it to a civil court, and that civil court then renders to me documentation that says, ‘Hey, he has to shut down’, then I will get involved as I’m required to do as a Sheriff in those civil issues.

Richard: It never got that far, did it? I think I know what you’re talking about, like the golf course and the gun range were shut down. I don’t believe any papers were ever filed. That was part of the issue, right?

Steve Cox: There was more issues than, I think, just an executive order from the Governor that came down about businesses and such. But I’d like to point out, that it was the only golf course shut down in the entire state of West Virginia. And Governor Jim Justice, who made the executive order, didn’t shut any of his own golf courses down. I’m not blaming Justice for this, I’m just saying it happened to be the only one that was attacked and the Sheriff had zero, absolutely no reason to get involved with that…

Richard: You mentioned that maybe your second most important issue is more out of the Police Department. And I guess that might interrelate somewhat with the issue of training. Would you do anything different or introduce anything? Would you like to just generally address that issue of morale and maybe the related issue of training officers?

Steve Cox: So I think good leadership coming in will help fix officer morale. I also believe that getting somebody in there that the guys actually know is going to be good for them. Most of those guys, actually, everybody except for two of those deputies working over there, came in during my tenure there in Ranson, maybe just after I started. I can think of maybe two, two guys, Dave Colbert and Foreman, who have been there just a little bit longer, been around law enforcement in Jefferson County, just a little bit longer than me. A familiar face that they worked with and didn’t deal with as administration, will go a long way to increase morale. They’re getting a guy that’s been out there working the streets with them in the past, and I think that’s going to make them, one happy, and they’re going to have a great outlook for the future. So morale will increase. The training aspect of this; so I didn’t go into great detail about who I am and what I’ve done in my life, but my entire adult professional career has been law enforcement. I started back in ’98 as a police officer in Ranson. Actually… before that, back in the early ’90s, I was a Frederick County Sheriff’s Department cadet in Virginia.

I’ve been doing this for quite some time. But we’ll stick to the professional side of things, 1998. I became a law enforcement instructor many years after that, and I actually served with the United States Department of State as a law enforcement instructor. Now, I did that here, across the country and world-wide., There is not another candidate on this ticket who appreciates training as much as I do. This was my full-time job for 10 plus years. I wasn’t a part-time instructor who went back to the station and took calls. I was a full-time law enforcement instructor, you name it. I have instructed in it, I’ve taught it, I’ve written curriculum, developed it and delivered it.

So in law enforcement in West Virginia, there’s a minimum training certification required. Minimum hours, it’s got to cover certain topics. All of that has to be done. Continuing education is also mandated by law, that has to be done. But, the training that is sometimes used as your mandatory yearly training, is the same thing all officers get, year after year after year. And I’m not saying that good repetitive training should be in the future, what I’m saying is the repetitive, free, cheap training that we use to continue to keep our certifications, I’m going to stop that. We’re going to start looking at things like your everyday tools. Firearm control and retention type of stuff. Driving… These guys, some of them have never even been through a driving school before. We have a great facility right over here where I live in Summit Point…

Steve Cox: So that’s one of the things that irritates me, when I hear some of the other guys talk, they say, well, we can get this free money from the government and you can get free training. No it’s not free money from the government. We can apply for grant money. That grant money is actually tax money. Yes, we can do that. And I plan on doing that. We have to do that. Let’s flip this thing back about eight months ago. COVID 19 hit. It shut this county down for three months. The bulk of our money comes from the property taxes. What the percentage is, I’m not exactly sure, but it’s more than what we get from businesses. But if you don’t think three months or a quarter of the year worth of business income into this county isn’t going to hurt, then you’re kidding yourself.

It’s going to hurt. I’ve heard other people running for Sheriff, running for other elected offices, get into this thing and say, we’re going to be just fine. I never thought that for a minute. I said every day that this continues it’s just going to get worse. And we have to start looking at, when does this end? At the end of it, I still hear people say, oh, we’re doing fine. Now, everybody sees that there’s a problem. We had a problem when this thing hit. So we have to figure out how we’re going to provide essential services to this county. I’m not talking just the Sheriff’s office. All of the essential services that we provide, we have to figure out how we’re going to do that. And unfortunately, what I think is going to happen is the non-essential services that we also provide are going to have to take a sideline. People don’t want to hear that. You can’t take that away from me. Well, we have to do. We have to use the money that we do have for the things that we as government police have to provide you.

Richard: It seems like there has to be some trimming all around.

Steve Cox: Absolutely. Everybody has to trim. So a big question is, and I get this a lot. What about manpower? A lot of the officer morale that I’m hearing from other people, is that there’s not enough people at the Sheriff’s office. I don’t believe that is a huge issue in the officer morale. In fact, I think on day one, if I was to walk into that Sheriff’s office, I can provide everything I need to provide with the manpower that I have. I’m going to mix things up a little bit, and that’s going to help with the manpower issues. Well, let’s go back a year, a year ago, this about this time last year, the new budget stuff was being thought of and created, and the current Sheriff asked for 10 new deputies. He hasn’t asked for 10 deputies since he’s been in office, so it was kind of weird that is asking for it in this very last year as sheriff, but he asked for it. Where are we going to get the budget? We have to actually look at trimming what we have to keep what we have. We can’t afford to bring on 10 new guys, it would be great if we could…

Steve Cox: We have some law enforcement experienced candidates, which is great compared to what we’ve had previous. A lot of inexperience and a lot of just absolute no experience in law enforcement. I think what stands me above and beyond what everybody else has to offer this county is the diversity in my experience. I have been a law enforcement officer right here in Jefferson County. I left and worked for the United States Department of State’s Law Enforcement branch as a law enforcement instructor. I’ve been doing this for over 20 years. I’ve done it here and world-wide. I’ve held multiple ranks. My jobs have been, for the most part, all inclusive of a lot of different things, and I’m not going to name off all 20 or 30 different things that I’ve ever done in law enforcement, but my diversity is what sets me apart. From that, being a public employee to being a business owner that I currently am, my business itself is wrapped up in law enforcement. It is completely related to the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. I spend my work days in the courthouse and at the jail. I have the power of arrest, so even outside of that public paycheck I used to get, my own functioning company, which is not paid for by the government, paid for by individuals that pay me for my services.

Everything about my adult career has been law enforcement, so when we’re talking the Sheriff’s position in particular, and you’re dealing with what is written in the Constitution, his job, criminal, civil and in taxes. I have covered all of those and I’ve been very successful in doing all of those. And if you look at my competition, you’ll see a history of a lot of failed inability to complete tasks and serve their office. You’re not going to find that with me. So come November 3rd, before you get there, do your research. You don’t have to listen to me. I want you to go and do your research, look into each and every one of these individuals and come out of it and tell yourself what you want as a Sheriff and go, check that box. I’m going to be there. And I’m the last one in the column, Cox for Sheriff.

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