DECISION 2020 • The Saginaw County Sheriff Democratic Primary Candidate Forum

Posted In: Politics, , Candidates,   From Issue 899   By: Robert E Martin

15th July, 2020     0

The position of Saginaw County Sheriff is a constitutionally mandated role that calls for a duly elected Sheriff elected by the people in each county of the state.  Currently Michigan has 83 counties and therefore 83 sheriffs; 68 below the Mackinac Bridge and 15 in the U.P.

This has been a constitutional mandate since 1828, whereas the State Police did not exist until 1917.  In Saginaw County the job of Sheriff involves the responsibility of servicing approximately 200,000 people spread throughout 810 square miles in 27 townships, 3 cities, and 5 villages. Primary duties of the office include responding to calls from citizens, maintaining a jail system, protecting the courts, and serving civil papers, along with numerous ancillary duties. 

Therefore, in addition to non-sworn civilian personnel, apart from being skilled with budgetary & fiscal issues, the Sheriff must obviously possess solid and detail-oriented management skills.

Candidates running for the office in the August primary consist of incumbent Sheriff William Federspiel, currently in his third term of office, who is facing off against Democratic challenger Kevin Stevens. The winner will face Republican challenger Rick Riebschleger in the final November election.

In light of the numerous duties, responsibilities, and independence of this constitutionally mandated office, The Review intended to present this in-depth candidate forum to appraise you of each candidate’s qualifications along with their vision for the department as we move forward into the future; however, Sheriff William Federspiel did not respond to the questions posed in this forum. What responses we publish here were taken from Federspiel’s response to our 2016 Candidate Forum.

REVIEW:  Briefly discuss your background in terms of how it qualifies you for this position and what are the top 4 qualities, skills & abilities that you feel are important for a Sheriff to possess?

Kevin Stevens:  I began my public service career as a Military Police Officer in the United States Army. I have 25 years of experience in law enforcement, starting as a deputy and retiring as a Lieutenant. I’ve shown increasing progression of leadership responsibilities throughout my career and am well versed in the historical background of operations at the Saginaw County Sheriff’s Office.

The four most important qualities for a Sheriff to possess in my opinion are: Active listening skills, great communication skills, compassion and empathy, and integrity. 

Active listening skills - Be able to listen and acknowledge multiple sides and perspectives of a problem or issue.

Great communication skills - The Sheriff must be able to communicate in a clear and decisive manner so people understand the message and it is not misinterpreted. 

Compassion and empathy - The Sheriff’s Office encounters many difficult situations. We must have the ability to show caring towards our community members.

Integrity - The Sheriff must do the right thing for the people of Saginaw County every time regardless of who is watching. Being transparent and honest also builds up the Sheriff’s standing with community members as a trusted leader. 

William Federspiel: My professional background includes working as the Sheriff of Saginaw Countysince January, 2009. I also have governmental budget experience from my time spent as a City Councilman with the City of Saginaw (2005-2008). I was a detective and police officer with the Saginaw Township Police Department from December 1996 - 2008, and I was a community police officer/Master Corporal with the Cape Coral, Florida Police Department from September 1987 - November 1996.  

I earned my Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Central Michigan University; my Bachelor’s Degree in Community Development from Central Michigan University; my Associates Degree in Criminal Justice Technology from Edison Community College in Fort Myers, Florida; and I am pursuing a second Master’s Degree in English and Literature from the University of Michigan

My Graduate degree and Undergraduate degree have increased my knowledge base to think more strategically, and my time spent working with public sector budgets on the City Council, and as the Sheriff of Saginaw County, provide a depth of fiscal knowledge as well as a great understanding of how to successfully operate within the confines of a political framework.  Having both a Graduate and Undergraduate Degree from CMU, as well as working on a second Graduate Degree, distinguishes me from my opponent because I have shown a commitment to a life of ongoing, continuing education.  

The top 4 qualities, skills and abilities needed to be a successful Sheriff are: 1. Communication (effective and honest communication is the bedrock of any successful leader). 2. Integrity (Always be honest, and be responsible for your actions) 3.Intelligence (Education and training are invaluable assets to any agency head) 4.Leadership (Lead by example; I wear my uniform and drive a marked patrol car on a daily basis).

REVIEW:  What do you feel are the biggest issues currently facing the Sheriff Department and Saginaw County over the next four years?

Stevens: First we must ensure that Saginaw County parents and residents are confident that our children can safely attend school, including travel to-and-from school facilities. Secondly, we must protect Saginaw County residents from Internet crime, including on-line predators and those looking to commit fraud. Third, we must address financial problems due to operating costs and the unfunded liabilities of the newly built jail. Finally, is the task of finding, training and retaining qualified personnel who are committed to this community.

Federespiel: No response.

REVIEW:  Briefly discuss your main goals and reasons for seeking this office and how you would accomplish them.

Stevens: My first main goal is School Safety, which would be improved with a new school liaison division, which will provide services to Saginaw County school districts offered by trained, certified, retired police officers to assist with school security and drug education.

Second is Internet Safety.  Provide training to elderly citizens and youth who are vulnerable to illegal Internet activity. Programs ensure protection and detection of these crimes. 

Third would be use of the Internet to Fight/Report Crimes.  I will expand the use of the Internet to provide the ability for Saginaw County residents to self-report crimes to the Sheriff’s office by uploading photos and comments of minor crimes.

Finally is a Balanced Budget.  We must balance the means of the department, while providing quality services to residents. I will…

  • Promote aggressive contract negotiation for goods and services.
  • Seek to reduce jail population through expansion of GPS tethering, and partnering with judges to consider alternative sentencing options.
  • Refrain from requesting tax increases to fund unnecessary expenditures.

Find out more about my detailed top priorities for Saginaw County at on Facebook

Federspiel: The biggest issues facing the Sheriff's Office over the next four years involve the displacement of crime from the City of Saginaw into surrounding communities.  The Governor's Office has placed a great deal of emphasis on reducing violent crime within the City of Saginaw.  With the Michigan State Police working collaboratively with the Saginaw Police Department and the Sheriff's Office we have realized significant reductions in violent crime over the past 5 years.  Although this is great news for the residents of the City, the Sheriff's Office must continue to evaluate the displacement of crime that is taking place in the surrounding communities that are nearest to the city.  

Under my direction and leadership, the Saginaw County Sheriff's Office will continue to play a major role in addressing this issue. It is a priority for me and my staff to continue to work with the citizens of our county and strategically plan for the ever-evolving trends of criminal activity therein.  Our agency with continue to partner with the Saginaw Police Department and the Michigan State Police to address this issue.

REVIEW:   The COVID-19 crisis and shutdown of our economy has dramatically impacted the ability of property and income taxes to support our infrastructure. The current Saginaw County budget represented a $2,334,194 increase over last year’s budget and back in April of this year the Saginaw County Controller asked all departments to reduce their budget by 2.3%. How do you propose to address this issue?

Federspiel:  No response.

Stevens:  In my years of experience, budget challenges are not uncommon.  Public leaders are frequently challenged to identify areas where resources could be combined in an effort to maximize return on tax dollars.  I do not believe that raising taxes is the answer.  I believe that the people of Saginaw County would be entrusting us to use innovative, 21stcentury ideas to meet the needs of the public in a cost-effective manner.

REVIEW:  The new Saginaw County Jail exceeded its $38 million construction budget, yet with increased capacity and the ability to reduce staff by 30%, will the savings be able to cover costs so taxpayers do not end up footing the shortfall?

Stevens: The answer, unfortunately, is no. The project was over budget from the start.  It was targeted to be completed by November 2019, then January 2020.  Skilled labor and material shortages further contributed to the overage, and it finally opened in April 2020.

Federspiel: With reduced staffing afforded by the podular design of this new jail, we can use the savings to pay off the 30-year bond that is paying for construction on the new jail.    Presently we have anywhere from 11 to 14 deputies at the jail and with this new system I can reduce that number by three or maybe four officers on a night shift without jeopardizing safety. 

Presently, we get $53 dollars per day per inmate from the federal government; and I have a deal with Genesee county where whereby we house 28 inmates and get paid $35 dollars a day for them, which over the course of a year amounts to $319,395 that can go into debt service on the jail bond.

My staff is set up to accommodate 513 inmates, so when we aren’t hitting that level, it doesn’t cost us anything more to take these inmates on. My predecessor would often have 600 to 650 inmates crowded into the jail; and the last time we came close to an overcrowding situation was five or six years ago, so lowering our count has helped tremendously.

Over the course of one year, if we receive$483,000 dollars from housing federal inmates, plus the $319,000 from Genesee County, we could be close to capturing $750,000 in revenue per year by doing this.  We can’t pay for the jail with outside services at first, but my goal would be do get that bond payment down for a 30-year debt service to a 20-year debt service down the line.  Right now I’m negotiating with the federal government on that per diem, because the current $53.00 per day rate is a 12 to 15 year old rate.  If we can get a higher rate, we could probably get the revenue stream from this up to close to $1 million per year.

REVIEW:  Do you see levels of violent crime and property damage and theft going down in Saginaw County?

Stevens:  Yes I do for a number of reasons. From a purely statistical perspective, the most criminalistic group has been 16 to 25-year-olds, and that demographic is diminishing in Saginaw County.  Additionally, when I am elected, I am confident that the measures I am taking regarding school safety and crime reporting will have a significant positive impact. 

Federspiel:  No response.

REVIEW:  The recent Black Lives Matter protests have precipitated actions within many municipalities to defund the police and shift these resources elsewhere.  Do you consider this a threat to public safety, or does it make sense to enlist the assistance of other departments such as Mental Health to help defuse situations?

Stevens:  While I do not believe that defunding law enforcement is the answer, I do agree that strong partnerships with other local law enforcement groups, Mental Health, and Child Advocacy groups are absolutely necessary. I will work to strengthen those relationships as I have in the past.

Federspiel: No response.

REVIEW:   What types of non-lethal force are deputies trained in and what access do they have to these types of resources?

Stevens:  All deputies are trained to first use their professional presence, including their uniform and marked vehicle to gain compliance with an officer’s lawful demands. If presence alone is not effective they will follow the use-of-force continuum, starting with verbal commands, open-hand techniques, open-hand restraints, pressure points, and the use of tasers and pepper spray.  A retraining program to refresh skills should also be in place and monitored carefully to remain confident in a deputy’s skill level. All deputies need to possess strong communication skills to help deescalate situations. 

Federspiel: No response.

REVIEW:   What is the recruiting and training process for new deputies?

Stevens: In my experience, we contacted local Police Academies when we knew we would be expecting openings.  We also always aimed to attract top talent from local agencies when qualified personnel could be identified for advancement opportunities. 

Federspiel: No response.

REVIEW: What is the distribution of personnel across the county? 

Stevens: I cannot comment specifically on current distribution practices; however, I can comment on what my expectations will be.  I plan to return road patrol to the level that the voters have repeatedly asked for, as has been funded by numerous millages over many years.

Federspiel: No response.



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