Augusta County Sheriff Randy Fisher withdrew the county sheriff’s office from an ongoing accreditation review in light of news reports that nearly $4,000 in cash had gone missing from the office’s evidence room.
The accreditation issue has dominated the sheriff race, with the four candidates in the running to succeed Fisher as Augusta County sheriff – Derek Almarode, Neil Kester, Todd Lloyd and Donald Smith – all weighing in with their nuanced approaches to remedy the situation.
All agree that re-accreditation needs to be a top priority for the next sheriff. They differ a bit on Fisher’s move to withdraw from the process.
Neil Kester has been most critical of that move, saying that in effect the sheriff’s office has lost its “sense of professionalism” without having the accreditation in place.
“Basically your deputies went from working within accepted, accredited policies and procedures to nothing,” said Kester, a senior conservation officer with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. “Getting this office back to being back within those standards is very important. As someone who works for a nationally accredited agency, I know how important this is. This is a sign of our professionalism. We can regain that sense of professionalism, and regain the public’s trust.
“Granted, you’re going to have to do more. Accreditation alone isn’t enough. But it’s a building block that’s very important,” Kester said.
The other three candidates backed the move by Fisher to withdraw from the accreditation process.
“Doing this will allow the next sheriff and his administration to immediately start the re-accreditation process with a clean slate,” said Lloyd, a 19-year veteran of the sheriff’s office. “The new sheriff will be able to have everything prepared and in place and will be able to reapply for accreditation in approximately 18 months.
“I think it is very important to restore our accreditation as soon as possible. That is why if I am elected sheriff, it will be one of my top priorities,” Lloyd said.
Derek Almarode shared similar sentiments on the process.
“The 18-month waiting period will provide the new administration time to make those changes that are necessary to be made,” said Almarode, a 21-year veteran of the sheriff’s office. “That will make the actual re-accreditation much smoother. We can make those changes fairly immediately. I won’t say instantaneously, because we have 18 months to do it, and we can make those changes gradually within that 18-month period. But I think we will accomplish that with no problem.
“To me it’s a no-brainer. You need to be accredited. And I will seek it aggressively until we can accomplish it within 18 months,” Almarode said.
Donald Smith is a little more begrudging in his acceptance of the move by Fisher to withdraw from the accreditation process.
“Whether the money went out in the trash, it was stolen, whatever, we have a problem,” said Smith, a 12-year veteran of the sheriff’s office. “If we’re accredited with the money being missing, and not knowing what happened, and there are agencies all across the state are accredited by the same review process, that obviously devalues the accreditation process. It absolutely devalues it.
“We absolutely need to work to get the accreditation back. It’s essential that we do that,” Smith said. “To say that I’m going to go to work on Jan. 1, 2016 on accreditation, we’re not even eligible to reapply for 18 months. Once it was surrendered and it was gone, that was put into stone. The issue to me is, we should never have gone through this process with this unresolved issue with the missing money. We shouldn’t have been in a position to have to surrender it.”
– Story by Chris Graham