The competition to become the next Brown County sheriff has become a two-horse race.
Ripley native and current Winchester Police Chief David Benjamin said he plans to run for the Republican nomination for Brown County sheriff in the March 2016 primary, joining current Brown County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Carl Smith in the race for the position.
“Strangely enough, it was never in my consideration,” Benjamin said in a phone interview with The News Democrat. “Probably about two years ago, my sister (Tessa Ellis) brought it up. I told her I wasn’t interested but she said, ‘Just think about it.’”
After some prayers and some time thinking about it, Benjamin decided to officially start his campaign for sheriff.
Benjamin has had a long career in law enforcement. At the same time as his graduation from Ripley High School in 1993, Benjamin completed his police course at Southern Hills Joint Vocational School.
After a few years in college and working at Rocky Fork State Park, Benjamin joined the Ripley Police Department full time, rising to the rank of lieutenant. He also served as a K-9 handler for five years.
Following a seven-year stay in Ripley, Benjamin left the police department to work in the private sector, working for Frito Lay, but his time there didn’t last long.
“I felt like I was lost,” Benjamin said. “I felt like I needed to get back in law enforcement.”
In December 2008, Benjamin joined the Winchester Police Department, and in October 2012, he took over for Greg Caudill and became the new police chief of the department.
Benjamin said his faith plays a big role in both his personal and professional life.
He prays with the people he arrests, he said, while they’re in the back of the police car on their way to the jail. Benjamin said only one person has rejected an offer to pray since he started this tradition two years ago.
“People that I’ve even sent to prison, they look at you with respect because you’re trying to help them turn their life around,” Benjamin said.
The sheriff candidate believes that faith and education can play a big role in solving some of the region’s problems, including ending the drug epidemic that’s only growing with every year.
“One thing I’ve already implemented and tried to do, which I started in Adams County, is drug awareness programs,” Benjamin said. “We’ve done it mostly in churches… We’ve got to educate the youth, we’ve got to educate the parents to know what to look for.”
Benjamin knows that money is tight for law enforcement these days. As police chief, he said he’s had to work with a tight budget. Through traffic stops and drug enforcement, he’s been able to raise enough money to operate his department on a small budget.
He hopes ramping up the traffic stops and being tougher on drugs could help raise more money to build a new jail in Brown County, for example.
He’s also pledged to follow up on some unsolved homicides that the BCSO has not given updates on, and vowed to be transparent with families who are hoping for any shred of information.
Benjamin has some ideas on how to give inmates in the Brown County Adult Detention Center a better chance to have a good life after they’re released from jail.
“Throughout the jail, we don’t have a lot of services available right now,” Benjamin said. “We used to have GED classes. Some of the people who don’t go to jail don’t have an education so they can’t get a job. I’d like to see the GED classes back in there and any other classes such as job training.
The veteran officer also said that, as a sheriff, it’s important to have a strong presence in the community but to also be approachable.
“Every year, we do an event called the Night Out. It allows the kids to get closer to the police officers, firefighters and EMTs, and lets them see what our job is and the equipment we use. It’s been a huge success.”
There’s still plenty of time for other potential candidates to enter the field. Candidates for sheriff must acquire at least 50-150 signatures on a petition and file it by Dec. 16 to be eligible for the March 2016 primary, according to the Brown County Board of Elections.
Reach Daniel Karell at 937-378-6161. Follow him on Twitter @GNDKarell.