BENNINGTON— Beau Alexander Sr. believes his experience in law enforcement and human services has given him the insight he needs to become a successful Bennington County sheriff.
Alexander, of Shaftsbury, hopes to replace incumbent Sheriff Chad Schmidt, promising to focus largely on protecting citizens, aggressively combat the opioid epidemic, and ensure his department has the resources it needs to serve the community. Alexander and James Gulley, both independents, are both challenging Schmidt.
In order to achieve some of his goals, he promises to give back to his department and the community by giving back 25 percent of the approximately $82,000 sheriff's salary as well as the entire 5 percent bonus the sheriff receives for every negotiated contract, which averages $66,000 a year. This money, he said, would help fund opiate addiction education and treatment; youth, adult, and elderly programming; student scholarships; Meals on Wheels; Project for Independence; more officers on patrol, and more.
In 2008, Alexander was hired to work at the Department of Corrections where he worked for the prison in South Burlington during the time it made its transition from a male facility to a female facility. He was eventually promoted and worked for Probation and Parole in Burlington in the Field Supervision Unit. Here, his job was to make house visits and ensure people were following their conditions of release and parole.
"While we did that, we weren't armed," he said. "We just had pepper spray, handcuffs, and a bulletproof vest. During my experience like that, you really learn how to diffuse situations and use words instead of force."
In 2011, Alexander moved to Bennington County to work in the Department of Corrections. When he moved, he noticed many differences between Chittenden and Bennington County.
"Being so far away from Montpelier, [Bennington] is kind of out of sight, out of mind," he said.
He noted that Bennington County has one of the highest incarceration rates in Vermont, but crime rates are not much different from other counties.
"It's a revolving door," he said.
He feels like the Probation and Parole department lost sight of their main goal: to reduce recidivism, or the tendency of a convicted criminal to commit additional offenses.
Alexander has also seen the rise of the opiate epidemic from Burlington to Bennington.
"I felt like it was a lot worse here than it was in Chittenden County," he said.
One main reason Alexander hopes to be elected sheriff is so he can use the platform to provide the necessary resources to tackle the drug problem.
"The way it's being handled now doesn't work," he said. "The drug war does not work."
If elected, Alexander says he would advocate to develop a drug court here in Bennington County to not only better help those struggling with addiction, but take some stress off of court officials who deal with multiple drug-related cases a day.
He was surprised to come to Bennington County and see that there is no drug court unlike Chittenden County.
"I was actually shocked," he said.
Drug court is similar to the distinction between criminal court and family court. At drug court, drug cases are held separately from criminal court trials.
"It really worked well with the influx of people coming into the court system," he said.
At criminal court, Alexander says defendants are told to seek treatment but are not usually associated with finding treatment. Conversely, at drug court, defendants receive court-ordered treatment,.
"I'd like to work closely with the State's Attorney in providing resources to help with some of the costs, and to help with some of the vision we have between law enforcement and users," he said. "People that are addicted don't open up as well as they would [to a police officer] as they would someone in a treatment facility."
Alexander also vows to ensure his officers interact with the community in positive ways to combat negative views of law enforcement. These negative views, he says, comes from the fact that much community interaction comes from situations like arrests and traffic tickets. If better social interaction is promoted between officers and the community, Alexander believes the relationship between citizens and police will improve.
"We need to get that community policing back," he said.
One of the first things Alexander says he noticed when he came to Bennington was "a good old boys club" within law enforcement.
"It's pretty bad," he said.
Alexander says he would like to change this and make law enforcement more welcoming and diverse.
"That's one of my day one [tasks]," he said.
Christie Wisniewski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.