Q&A w/ Kenosha Sheriff David Beth

Q&A w/ Kenosha Sheriff David Beth

COVID-19 has changed the playbook for & Kenosha Sheriff David Beth his deputies

In his seventeen years in office, Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth has seen a number of significant events. But nothing compares to what his department is facing with this pandemic. Dave Beth was kind enough to take time out of his busy day to answer our questions.

When were you first elected Kenosha Count Sheriff?
I was first elected November 2002 and took office January of 2003

I first ran against then Sheriff Larry Zarletti.  The election was extremely close with a winning margin of less than 200 votes for the entire county.  Shortly after the election, a recount confirmed the results.

After you complete your final term you will have served for 20 years, how does your time in office compare to other Wisconsin Sheriffs?

Most sheriff’s stay in office from 4-8 years. In Kenosha, terms throughout history are mostly for 2-4 years.  Sheriff Larry Zarletti remained in office for 6 years (3 terms) and Sheriff Allan Kehl was in office for 8 years (4 terms). My 20 years in office will be Kenosha’s longest winning 5 terms.

After leaving office, any other political aspirations?
I will leave that door open at this time, but I have no particular office in mind.  I believe I will always stay busy working and it will more than likely be out of the world of politics.  I was once told by former Sheriff Fred Ekornas, you do not realize the amount of stress you live with on a daily basis as Sheriff.  Once you retire, you will be surprised how heavy the boulder you carried on your shoulders really was.  This term does not end until January of 2023.

With your many years in office what would you consider to be some of your more demanding challenges?
Dealing with department funding will always be a hurdle you have to jump over every year. Working the County’s Administration and County Board is always a give and take process. We are blessed in Kenosha to have two incredible branches of County Government to work with arm in arm to meet the balancing act of needs vs finances.
Taking on and growing the housing of Federal Inmates that started even before I was in office.  We grew this initiative into generating millions of dollars over my current 18 years in office.  Over the 20 years we have been holding these inmates and detainees, the Federal Government refused to raise the daily per diem rate of $70.  Over this much time, expenses have increased dramatically to make this source of revenue less profitable or probably not profitable at all.  US Immigration and the detainees we held were very demanding in many ways.  When COVID-19 became an issue in March 2020, we informed ICE we would not be taking any new detainees until this crisis passed.  ICE advised if we would not welcome new detainees literally from around the world whether they were infected or not, they would remove the 170 detainees we held at that time.  Other than the loss of funding paid to hold the detainees, this truly has been a life saver in several ways for our department.
Keeping an appropriate number deputies on the road, correctional staff in our jail and behind the scenes staffing to keep it all functional.  Times, technology and our calls for service have all changed drastically since I was a 21 year old deputy in 1982.  I remember running radar on HWY 50 in the Ace Hardware parking lot as this was still a County location.  Seems like a long time ago, but there were mostly just fields west of Cooper Road on HWY 50 as well all the way to the interstate.
COVID-19 has without a doubt been a trying situation.  Thank goodness Kenosha has extremely caring and proactive leaders and staff in our different divisions.  This starts from our County Executive to our heads of County Human Resources and Health Division.

What are some of the changes and or accomplishments that you feel most positive about?
During my last election, we compiled and extremely lengthy list of some of the more major accomplishments.  These are just a few more recent ones:
• Working with local Villages to contract services to meet their needs at a reasonable cost.
• Keeping our staff trained and equipped at a high level.
• Take home squad program to help reduce costs and allow quick response during any emergency situation.
• Generating probably in the area of $80,000,000 holding Federal Inmates for many years that directly offset our tax dollars and also created good paying jobs within Kenosha.
• Working with great staff over the years to handle anything thrown our way.

Recently the Sheriff’s department, who has responsibility over the County Detention Center severed ties with ICE and you no longer contract to house federal detainees. Why did they leave and how has it affected your budget?
ICE did remove the detainees that were housed in Kenosha after we alerted the Federal Government we wanted to reduce our exposure to the Coronavirus.  We still house US Marshals in our facilities which still brings in revenue.  The cost vs expense is still going to have to be analyzed as this year moves on.  We have found the ICE detainees with an incredible burden on the Sheriff’s Department resources and personnel.  US Marshal inmates are much less demanding and labor intensive.  A study in the future may find the lack of any increase in per diem rates for 20 years, may make this housing less desirable as well.  The loss of this revenue will be in part this year absorbed by a major reduction in overtime and personnel costs not needed.  There are also transportation, food and everyday expenses not needed with less population in our facilities.

In the midst of this COVID-19 crisis what are some of the bigger challenges facing you and your staff?
Keeping staff and inmates healthy.  We have been doing our best to quarantine staff as soon as they have any symptoms that may be connected to COVID-19.  We have found that most of our staff that were placed on quarantine tested negative once tests were available.  This has allowed a great portion of our staff to return to work healthy.  Inmates have also been quarantined, but with recent testing of all inmates and staff that were working the day of testing, we found out just how contagious COVID-19 really is.  We found most of our positive testing inmates were asymptomatic along with our most current wave of staff.  Once again, quarantine over the next 14 days will help to rid all positive in our staff or custody.  I am thankful our County Health Division pushed to have the National Guard test in our facilities.  This test allowed us to know conclusively we had many more affected than we even realized.  Most that we are now aware showed no signs of the virus.

This pandemic crisis doesn’t come with a playbook, how have you instructed your deputies to go about their business?  What have you done to control inmate population?
From the start, we have asked our deputies to keep distance  the best they can with those we have to deal with daily.    We asked them to only make traffic stops required for safety of the public.  Deputies are to try their best to move the people they need to talk to outdoors and to wear protective masks when talking to the public.

Recently the National Guard came in and tested all but two detainees with 79 out of 420 testing positive for Coronavirus, how are they doing?
All inmates are basically on some form of quarantine.  Most of the inmates that tested positive are asymptomatic and showing no symptoms.  We don’t have any inmates who are hospitalized or on ventilators.  All inmates are checked by medical staff a minimum of once daily.  Those that tested positive are checked at least twice daily.  Having the testing was positive response to this entire situation and I am glad our County Health Division was able to have the State and National Guard provide the testing.  This gave us an accurate number of who is contagious and who is not.  Before the test we had no idea who had the virus and were infecting others.

What about your staff?
We worked with County HR and Health Division to come up an aggressive plan to help protect our staff.  Whenever any employee showed any symptom that could have been connected to Covid 19, they were immediately placed on quarantine. They were sent for tests, if available.  They were also placed on A&S until they could be cleared to return to work.  Our numbers on quarantine peaked at about 45 out last week and now are down to 28 and of May 5.  Potentially this number could be close to half that by the end of the week.

How do the snowmobile trails look?
Snowmobile trails look good in GREEN

By Frank Carmichael
For many years, Sheriff David Beth has been a recurring guest on Happenings Q&A (AM1050 WLIP). Tune in on Wednesday, May 20th at noon to hear more from our Kenosha sheriff.

(This story first appeared in the 5/7/2020 issue of Smart Reader)