West Virginia Politics WV Elections 2020

#62-Interview with Mike Chapman-Democratic Candidate for Sheriff-Jefferson County WV

Learn more about Mike Chapman, his previous management and law enforcement experience and his views on issues facing law enforcement in Jefferson County WV.

Listen to the Podcast

Mike Chapman Interview Excerpts

Mike Chapman: Hi. Good morning Mr. Urban and all your viewers. Thanks for having me on the show today. I really appreciate it. I am Mike Chapman. I’m the Democratic candidate for Sheriff. I’m probably a little different than the other candidates in the field. I was a reserve deputy for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office for 10 years. I logged a lot of volunteer time in a police cruiser, doing by my best to make the citizens of Jefferson County safe. I served under three different Sheriffs. I’ve seen three different management styles of the organization. But my primary bread and butter, so to speak; throughout my life, I’ve been involved in information technology, business and finance. I’m an entrepreneur. I have owned a few small businesses over the years. Still do actually. I also own a farm out on the South end of Jefferson County. I think that basically, I’ll bring a unique perspective to the office. One, I do have the law enforcement experience. I do know what goes on inside the sheriff’s office. I do have some experience with all that. But the fact that I spent my entire career in the private sector, where in order to survive, you have to make things more efficient, more cost-effective and more customer service friendly.

Those are traits that you do not see in government, generally speaking. Not always. I don’t want to be too over dramatic with it, but a lot of times in law enforcement, we’re missing some of those things. So I think that once I get in office and I take a good hard look at everything and do a complete process analysis, complete needs assessment. We’ll find some opportunities to save the tax payers’ money, to be more responsible to the voters, to provide a higher level of customer service to people that have to react with the Sheriff’s office. And hopefully, just provide a total better service to the community while providing a better experience to the employees that work under me.

Richard: Can you clarify for myself and the viewers, what do the reserve officers do? Have you ever made an arrest, for instance? Or is it more like direct traffic or is it much more involved than that?

Mike Chapman: It sort of depends on the Sheriff, as to how much leeway he gives them. It also depends on the deputy that you might be working with at the time.

The reserves have an academy with about 200 hours of training. They are trained in Tasers, pepper spray, take down tactics, hand cuffing. They assist deputies with arrests. At least in my day they did. I assume they still do. I’ve rolled around on the floor with the subject trying to apprehend him along with the deputies. You’re very much involved. We transport prisoners. We take them to arraignment, take them to prison. We help process the paperwork on DUIs. We do direct traffic when there’s a catastrophic event, something that might down the highways. We’re extra manpower, extra eyes and ears in the community. A lot of the things we do, for example, I think a DUI arrest might take several hours to process. And that will also include a trip to the Regional Jail. So we’ll take some of those responsibilities off the deputy to get them back out on the street faster. So we’re sort of a force multiplier for the sheriff’s department.

Richard: And that’s a volunteer position, so you’re giving your time.

Mike Chapman: Yes. And I was involved in that early on. I was one of the people that helped form the organization and make it what it is today.

Richard: I notice about the training academy, they said it’s one of the, maybe the only one in the state or something.

Mike Chapman: A lot of the counties, local counties will send their officers here for training, because we do have such a great program. Ours is the model program for the state of West Virginia.

Richard: What do you think right now is the greatest issue for law enforcement in Jefferson County?

Mike Chapman: That’s a two-part question for me.

The biggest issue as we see it immediately is the opioid crisis. The opioid crisis drives so many other things. To an extent, human trafficking. To an extent, healthcare, because we’re seeing upticks in hepatitis, HIV, because of things that are going on in and around the opioid crisis. It’s destroying families, it’s creating despair. It’s definitely a problem. But what I see as an even potentially bigger problem looming on the horizon, if you’re following the news, the national rhetoric against police officers, de-funding the police. It’s driving down morale. We’re seeing in New York that there is a mass exodus of police officers from New York City. They’re retiring, they’re quitting.

Has it happened here yet? No. Are the guys and girls in law enforcement feeling it? Yes. A lot of them want out. And even before this, recruitment nationally for law enforcement officers is down by 60%. Used to advertise, you’d get 100 applications. Now you’re getting locally, you can get 10. It’s a problem, it’s a real problem. And so what scares me is, at some point, you’re going to lose your talented police officers because they’re educated, they’re smart, they can get another job. You’re going to lose them, and there’s nobody to back fill them because nobody wants to go in law enforcement. The younger generation didn’t like it, that idea, anyway, they’re not jumping in to fill the seats, and everybody else is, why would they subject themselves to what they’re hearing?

Richard: If I might ask the question. Okay, so I saw your post about the New York City Police Department and the patrol officer just quit. And I know hundreds of other officers have quit. The patrol officer, chief or director or whatever the title is. But the conundrum I see is, the Democratic Party and the Democratic Mayor De Blasio, he’s causing a lot of these issues and the whole kind of nexus between the Democratic Party and the defund the police movement. I know yourself you clearly indicate you’re not for that, but your party seems to be leaning that way. Can you address that?

Mike Chapman: I can’t speak for the Democratic Party. Listen, there’s a lot of labels that I used to define myself. I’m an American, I have to leave in the constitution 100%. I understand on the West Virginian. I’m a husband, I’m a brother, I’m a son, I’m an entrepreneur. Somewhere down on that list, way down is the label Democrat. I am a part of the party, but I don’t understand the national objective. I really don’t know what they’re trying to achieve by forcing his rhetoric on us. Because, I don’t know that many people that really want to de-fund the police. I have met a few locally, I have. But it seems to be very much a minority. Because what’s going to happen when you call 911 if there are no police officers to take the call? I don’t want to live in that world.

Richard: On the question of the big issue of the opioids, and you were mentioning on your website or Facebook about also a multi-pronged approach or reducing demand. I know specific you mentioned that. What could be done to reduce demand? How do you see that?

Mike Chapman: Sure, sure. First thing about opioids is that it knows no socio-economic boundaries. It can happen in any family. It just can. It doesn’t matter how much money you have or what race you are. What I see is part of the problem is the supply-demand equation. As long as there is a demand for the product, there’s going to be a supplier. We catch the supplier, we take down, we disrupt the network for a little while. Somebody else comes back in to fill it because there’s demand for it. So, we have to find a way, and I know that once you’re on opioids, it’s almost impossible to get off. It’s a life-long addiction. I know all that. But, the point is, if we do nothing, we’re not going to make any progress at all. So we have to do something. If we can only save 10% than that’s still worth it. But what we do now, we catch people with drugs or we catch people who have committed a small property crime to get drugs, and we put them in jail for a while. And we don’t really cure then, we don’t fix them, we don’t make anything better. We pay $50 a day for them to sit in jail, and then we release them back into the world, still addicted. Still, whatever the underlying problem that may have led to their addiction is still there, if it’s mental health, whatever it may be.

So what I would propose is that we try to fix them, as best we can. We try to help them, and we have a day report Center in town. It obviously has limited capacity. The treatment is funded largely through insurance companies. So it alleviates the jail bill. The insurance picks up the tab for the treatment. It’s expensive to send them through that, but the idea is first we treat the chemical addiction, then we try to treat the underlying condition that may have caused the chemical addiction, then we try to re-integrate them back into society. Give them some job training. There’s some employers locally that are hiring people out of that program. And try to make them productive citizens, again, give them a reason to be proud. The current system of just putting addicts in prison because they were holding drugs and they got caught and they go to jail, now they have a drug addiction and a criminal record, that’s not really helping them, so we have to do something different…

Richard: On another topic. We’ve had the governor’s mandates for COVID-19. Then we know that some businesses locally in Jefferson County, at least a couple, and others, and I know in Martinsburg, there’s a barber shop where the gentleman said he wasn’t shutting down. Presumably these could or have escalated where the Sheriff’s Office might be sent over or maybe Martinsburg actually it’s the police, but in any case as an example, so to say, ‘Hey look, you have to shut down’. Would you enforce those kind of COVID 19 regulations? Or even they could involve wearing a face mask. I was at the Moulton Park on a Memorial Day. It was closed. I was going to have a picnic with a friend. It was closed. The signs said it is not open. In fact, they removed the picnic tables. So presumably, someone could have said ‘Hey, don’t congregate here’, or even arrest you. How would you handle those kind of mandates? Are those constitutional? What would you do?

Mike Chapman: Well, let’s take the face mask. I don’t see the Sheriff’s office being able to enforce masks. We have a 32-33 deputies and they are all not on duty at one time. At any given time, there’s four or five out on the road. We have 56-ish thousand citizens. We are a tourist economy that has three million visitors per year. We don’t have enough deputies to do the law enforcement jobs that we have now, let alone try to tackle 3 million plus 56,000 people who may or may not be in compliance with mask law. I think this is, at best, it’s the responsibility of the Health Department to enforce. It’s also the responsibility of private businesses to handle on their own. I’m a little, in some ways, shocked at people that fight the mass thing so much. My entire life, I’ve been involved in things. Like, I’m an IT guy that worked in a factory. When I went out on a factory floor I had to have steel toed boots, hearing protection, eye protection. In certain areas a hard hat. Safety equipment is part of many, many, many jobs. If you play sports you are required to wear safety equipment. The mask thing to me is, I just wear one if they want me to, and that’s it. But I understand people who don’t want to do that. I understand some people can’t do that. But, it’s up to the businesses to enforce that, and if someone demands to come in without a mask and their policy is that you must have a mask, it’s within their right to deny service to the customer that doesn’t want to comply.

And if that situation that comes escalated, then we’ll step in and remove them because they at that point will be trespassing. But just to walk around and tell people or site people for not wearing a mask, we’re not going to do that. As for the gathering, if the park was officially closed and the owners of the park, is that publicly owned?

Richard: No, that’s County. That’s Moulton Park.

Mike Chapman: They may have closed the park. But no one was really interested in enforcing that. The Governor himself said people should be outside and doing things. And so if you were outside using public grounds for family activity, I have no problem with that whatsoever…

Richard: As we come toward a conclusion, why would the voters especially choose you versus your three or supposedly four opponents? What will be your distinguishing points?

Mike Chapman: Well, I’m the best candidate for the job. That’s a good reason to pick me. I bring a different perspective. The guys with law enforcement experience, to be a law enforcement officer minimum requirements are, high school diploma and 14 weeks at the academy and some on the job training. And I’m not speaking about specifically the other candidates, but just generally speaking. So, you can come up through the ranks and run a police department based on that without a broad scope of other world experience. And your knowledge is sort of pigeon-holed into that area. I think what I bring to the table above and beyond the other guys is that broader range of experience. Other ideas, ways to do things faster and more efficient. I’ve got some ideas and I don’t really want to go into the detail of them yet because they’re so, I’ll call them state-of-the-art, that the state code doesn’t even address whether it’s legal to do it or not. So I’m going to have to get a legal opinion on how to do some of these things to help improve the processes in the Sheriff’s office. I think that also having been in private sector, managing people, Sheriff’s office is king of definitely a chain of command king of organization, and it needs to remain so.

But what happens is, police officers who have done this forever, they become a little jaded. They definitely, they see the worst in society, and they see the best people quite often when they’re having the worst day of their lives. So, they’re a little jaded. They don’t always think in terms of more modern management and leadership styles. And I think this Sheriff’s Office needs an injection of that. We need to empower the deputies and the supervisors of the deputies. We need to provide them more competitive things to help make their jobs better, like training, for example. We have one guy that’s trained in action reconstruction. We’ve got two detectives. Why not train more people? If I find out that Officer X wants to be trained in accident reconstruction, because that’s something they’re really passionate, really want to do, I should be able to provide that training to them to further their career for their knowledge. And also just give them a better experience while they work there. Plus, when you only have one guy that involved in a discipline, if he moves on, then we have no one. So we need some bench strength. I think that also some of the things I bring to the table with that broader experience is like recruiting. We recruit deputies now by put an ad in the paper and an ad on Facebook. And we’re not drawing a broad base. We have no minority representation whatsoever.

So when I recruit deputies, I’m going to use, borrow from my business experience. What do we do? We partnership with educational institutions. We’re going to partnership with Shepherd College and catch their criminal justice majors. Blue Ridge technical Community College. Even Jefferson High School. There are students there taking forensics classes right now and Washington High School as well. So if we actually partnership with these organizations and try to recruit these kids that have a propensity for law enforcement type backgrounds, and then plan our testing around graduation time so we catch them first when they’re right out of school. And reach out to them to invite them to the testing, personally, maybe even have job fairs, if necessarily. Do something more than just an ad in the paper. And I think we can get a better pool we are picking from. We can also diversify our workforce a little bit.

Richard: You mentioned you’re in IT, do you work for a larger company, have your own business? Just tell us a little more about that.

Mike Chapman: Both, actually. My primary job in IT, I worked for a local company, there’s no longer here, Royal Vendors. The largest budget I ever managed just for IT was $3 million. Now, Royal Vendors, the world headquarters was here in Kearneysville. But we had plants in Mississippi once upon a time. Tennessee, Arizona. And of course, there we a plant in Missouri. It was an incredible place to work. I rode the upswing from $70 million to a $300 million company, and then I wrote it back down again as they started divesting of other locations. To add to that, we also had sales offices in Canada, Mexico, Australia and Europe. So it was a global IT network that I managed. And then on the side, I had a contracting in business. I did IT work for daycare, for healthcare. I did work for other manufacturing companies. I did work for construction companies, I did work for property management companies. I always just had kind of a sideline there. I’ve owned a few other businesses along the way, including a commercial property maintenance company, and property management company, which I still own.

Richard: Any concluding thoughts you’d like to share?

Mike Chapman: Basically, I am definitely the right candidate for the job. I’ve got the experience in finance to manage the budget. I think this year we’re fine with the CARES Act propped up the County budget, but at some point, we’re going to be in trouble. Because video lottery revenues are down, hotel and motel taxes are down, and table games revenues down, property taxes seemed to be on the increase or they soon will be because houses are selling like crazy. And I’m hearing from my realtor friends that they’re getting 25% over asking price. It’s going to drive up our property tax revenue. So where we’re going to land, I don’t know. But if we do find a budget shortfall, we’ll figure it out. I’ve got the experience to do budget modeling to come up with ways that very quickly tell what we can do to make the Sheriff’s Department work. If we have to lean it up, we can still provide the same local service to Jefferson County on a smaller budget for a short period of time. I’ve got some ideas for retention. I know, I’ve talked to some deputies. There are various morale problems. I think I can improve it. I’ve already got those plans in place. Basically, we can just provide the citizens of Jefferson County with a higher level of service than they currently have, regardless of the budget condition.

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