Sheriff’s race

At the end of the evening, the registered Fluvanna Republicans in attendance cast their votes to determine which candidate would win the Republican endorsement.  Belew won with two-thirds of the vote. Both Belew and Hess are running as Independents.

Belew, 35, began by introducing himself.  Born and raised in Fluvanna, Belew earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Virginia.  He’s been a detective for the past six years, he said, “investigating just about every kind of crime you can imagine on the planet.”  Now he spends the majority of his time investigating Internet crimes against children.

One of the questions moderator Don Morton asked Belew concerned the fate of the current staff at the sheriff’s office should Belew win the election.  “There was a rumor circulating that I’d fire the entire sheriff staff and I guess go commando,” Belew replied.  “That’s just not true.”  There’s a lot of talent on the sheriff’s staff, he said, and most importantly, they are people who want to work in Fluvanna County.

Belew has always been up front about the fact that he will bring one person with him if elected, he said, though he declined to state who the person is or what position the person would occupy in the sheriff’s office.  But the remainder of the positions, he said, are to be reserved for those who currently work there.  As long as staff members are willing to work to the standards he intends to bring, Belew said they would be welcome and have a place at the office.

Later Belew identified personnel and manpower as the most significant law enforcement issue facing Fluvanna County.  Citing the “industry standard” of 1.5 sworn officers per 1,000 in population, Belew said, “We’re a little below where we should be… [Yet] we’re not rolling with cash so we can’t just have as many folks as we want.”  To help solve this problem, Belew wants a “reserve” program which makes use of trained volunteers.  In addition to providing resources at a very limited cost, Belew said the program frees up the staff to deal with more crime-specific issues.  “Eighty-five percent of our job is done behind the scenes,” he said.  “Volunteers can help free up that time.”

Examining crime statistics and crime analysis can help as well, Belew said, by giving the sheriff’s office hard data about problems and resources with which to approach the Board of Supervisors.  “We don’t want to be a training ground for other agencies,” Belew said.  Just over the county line in Albemarle, he said, deputies can make between $5,000 and $10,000 more per year, and many of them do.  Belew wants to look in the budget to find ways to offset that pattern.  “We have to make sure we’re fighting to properly compensate the folks we have here,” he said.

One of Belew’s main goals is seeking accreditation for the sheriff’s office.  “It provides that accountability piece that we talk about,” he said.  “You can be an elected official…and you can be all smoke and mirrors and not have anyone looking over you to make sure that your law enforcement services are adequate… [Accreditation] provides a form of guaranteed accountability.”

When it was time to wrap up, Belew took some time to speak about his Fluvanna roots.  “This is where I grew up,” he said.  “This is where my family grew up, and my grandfather before me.  And this is where my children are being raised.  I’m invested in this community, and this is home.  So to be able to have the opportunity to bring back the knowledge that I’ve been able to attain from all the other agencies that I’ve had the privilege of working for is really important to me.  And I think it should be important to this community as well, to know that you have someone who’s vested not only in your interests but in the interests of the county as well.  And that interest should be here for quite a long time – at least until I [retire and] start fishing.”

Hess, 57, became interim sheriff on May 2 when former Sheriff Ryant Washington stepped down to become a special policy advisor for law enforcement for the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

For eight years Hess was chief deputy under Washington, and prior to that he worked as a sergeant in the Albemarle County Sheriff’s Office as director of the Crime Prevention Academy.  In addition to training and supervising deputies, Hess worked in the civil process division and the courts.  In all, Hess has 21 years of law enforcement experience.

The special election is set for Nov. 4.

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