An emphasis on community policing, relevant backgrounds, and areas of concern to improve the agency are issues being addressed by two candidates for the Idaho County Sheriff position.
Doug Ulmer (R) of Kooskia, and Casey Zechmann (Ind.) of Grangeville, will face off for the four-year position in the Nov. 3 general election. A second independent candidate in this race, Steve Rodriguez of Slate Creek, officially withdrew from the ballot on July 31.
“It’s a completely different policing idea here than a bigger area like Boise would be,” said Doug Ulmer. It’s a county bigger than some states at 8,503 square miles, with 14 deputies working calls “from Powell to Pollock to Pittsburg Landing; it’s just all over the place.... I really do believe in Idaho County you have to know the people. If they know you, they are going to come to you if they have a problem. If they don’ know you, they’re probably going to keep their problems to themselves, unless it’s significant enough to call and report.”
To this, Ulmer sees his strength for being sheriff is his lifelong familiarity with the county and its residents, having been born in Grangeville and raised in the Kooskia-Kamiah area. He studied law enforcement at the College of Southern Idaho, went to work for the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, and for the past 31-plus years worked for the Idaho County Sheriff’s Office (ICSO), from which he resigned earlier this summer to concentrate on his campaign. He said this is where he’s wanted to live, he enjoys the way of life here and he is familiar with areas across the county.
“I’ve tried to make myself approachable,” he said, as a deputy. “I’m not an office person, so if they have a problem and want to talk to me, people will call me and I’ll go to their house, sit down and have them explain it to me. Those are things it takes time to develop.”
Another of his strengths is during his years of service having “worn multiple hats” for the jobs sheriff deputies are involved with, including working as a deputy coroner in death investigations to assisting the assessor’s office in doing VIN (vehicle identification number) inspections.
“This is one of those jobs I don’t think you’ll be proficient in until you’ve done it for some time,” Ulmer said, “and I really do believe this gives me a huge step up [as a candidate for sheriff].”
Looking at the current sheriff’s office operation, Ulmer said improvement is needed in deputy call response.
“It’s our job to serve; we’re servants of the county, they pay our wages,” he said. “So, when you’re having a major problem, on a good day you have to wait because of drive time, but if you’re getting jammed up because there’s only one officer out, you have a problem there. It may not take care of itself; it may be magnifying as you’re waiting.” To address this, Ulmer envisions, “all hands on deck, from the sheriff to the newest guy,” in putting more people on calls to improve response.
As regards the remote back country, Ulmer wants to improve search and rescue efforts by working with such groups (ICSO posse, Grangeville Mountain Rescue), as well as recreational organizations and clubs -- “They recreate in the wilderness, and they want to help us help people,” Ulmer said -- to facilitate and plan that response, and also help supply them, “...to be more successful with the searches we deal with.”
Employee retention is another ICSO issue Ulmer wants to work on as sheriff.
“We have a huge turnover rate,” he said. “I look at it as, every time we train one of these people and they leave to go to another job, Idaho County just lost the amount they put in to train that person.” He wants to better involve those within the office, focus on those who want to stay within the county and the agency, and encourage their self-development to seek leadership roles and rise in rank.
Also part of this is improving hiring procedures, such as prior to hiring, conducting background checks, ensuring physical fitness standards are met, and undergoing an employment polygraph.
“We need to take steps we’re putting a capable person in that position who hasn’t been a problem. That should be done before they walk through the door.”
“It’s just time to get back to a law enforcement approach to all this,” he said.
“I’m very community-oriented,” said Casey Zechmann. He lays out his work and achievements in his 12 years of law enforcement, as well as in his personal life, as the commitment he has to where he lives and his neighbors.
Zechmann worked for the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office for 12 years, 11 of which he was a field training officer and supervisor. He served as a crime scene investigator, ran the agency’s K-9 division and was part of the K-9 SWAT, led CCSO on drug and DUI arrests in 2015, and was recognized by the office for both his community involvement and “above and beyond performance.”
He was born and raised in rural Caldwell, and he and his wife and seven children moved to Grangeville about three years ago where he works as auto body foreman at Gortsema Motors. Zechmann is an entrepreneur, having started his own auto body shop right out of high school, and currently he also refinishes airplanes and sells ultralights.
“It’s important a sheriff not only understands business, but also understands the importance of involving himself with the community,” he said, “and I can do that.”
“I’ve found getting the community involved is essential to making a strong police agency, because a lot of the members of the community want to help,” he said. This takes officers, including the sheriff, in getting out into the community and letting the public know who they are and what they represent. In turn, this improves relationships and communication between officers and the public -- both its people and businesses -- to find out what the problems are.
“As sheriff, I will be out there doing the same thing they [deputies] are doing; I’ll be showing my face to the public, I’ll be talking to people,” he said, and he wants officers to have the same focus of being people-oriented. “Here’s the reason why: A lot of people won’t call the police because they have a mindset it’s their problem and they’ll deal with it. But give them an opportunity by having the presence to talk to them about their problems opens that line of communication. They’re more likely to tell you about problems, that leads to deterring crime, that leads to arrests, a variety of things that help the community with problems it’s dealing with.”
Zechmann said drugs is a big problem for Idaho County, one that -- based on his experiences in Canyon County -- can be curbed. Part of this takes effort in involving the community through community-oriented policing, as he discussed earlier. Another part is increasing the county’s K-9 program; using dogs to assist in drug interdiction efforts on patrol, as well as getting these into schools. He has the training and experience in developing a successful program, he said, “without hindering citizens” by increasing spending for an agency already limited on what it can do for existing programs and resources.
Youth is important to Zechmann, who wants to have more opportunities for them to meet first responders; talk with them and learn about their duties and responsibilities.
Zechmann believes in a “government by the people and for the people, and we need a sheriff who understands that and will enforce that. If we have the federal government come in and start violating people’s rights, we need a strong sheriff in position to dismiss the federal government from this county, and protect and preserve the rights of the people in this county, and I will do that with no hesitation.”
It is important the public trust the agency that it is interested to take their calls and listen to their complaints, he said. “We want that trust factor, that we’ll look into it, that we’ll show up on a complaint, talk to the other side and base the outcome on that police concept, instead of it being dismissed.”
“We want people to feel they can trust their sheriff agency,” Zechmann said, “because we are service members who represent them and work for them.”