Winner of Democratic primary for Cumberland County sheriff could be unopposed in November
PORTLAND — With no Republican, Green, independent, or write-in candidates on the June 10 ballot, the Democratic primary election for Cumberland County sheriff is shaping up as a winner-take-all affair matching two law enforcement veterans.
An independent candidate could file to run by June 2.
Incumbent Kevin Joyce, 51, of Standish, is seeking a second four-year term. He won his first term without opposition in 2010, and served as chief deputy for former Sheriff Mark Dion. Joyce is married, with stepchildren and two grandchildren.
"I've got a great agency with a lot of great employees and I feel I can take them to the next level with technology and enhanced service," Joyce said Monday.
Cumberland Town Councilor Mark Edes, 55, a former Maine State Police sergeant stationed in Gray, is challenging Joyce. He was elected as a councilor in 2013, and said he will keep his seat if he becomes sheriff. Edes is married and has two children.
Edes said he wanted to run to replace Dion (now a Democratic state representative running for re-election in House District 43) in 2010, but decided against it because he was not yet fully vested in his state police pension. He retired from law enforcement in January.
“I am looking forward to getting the house back in order. I love serving the public. I love going to people's houses and helping them solve their problems,” Edes said last week.
On May 8, Teamsters Local No. 340, comprised of patrol deputies and detectives in the Sheriff's Office, endorsed Edes.
Dave Hall, who presides over the local, praised Edes for a collaborative approach to law enforcement.
"(We are) confident in Mike's ability to offer us a team-based approach that best serves the citizens while creating a cohesive work environment throughout the rank structure," Hall said.
The endorsement did not trouble Joyce, who said the union was not speaking with its full voice at the announcement.
"When you do the numbers, it is less than 50 percent," he said. "I run on me."
The winner will administer a department of more than 250 employees, including 180 correction officers, 40 patrol personnel and other support staff. Working with a budget of more than $20 million (with $16.5 million for operations at the Cumberland County Jail), the sheriff oversees law enforcement in 14 county towns with a network of about 800 miles of roads.
The candidates agreed drug and mental health issues are the primary concern in law enforcement and corrections, with addictions leading to more thefts and burglaries, and the Cumberland County Jail seeing too many inmates too often because of the problems.
“On any given day, 80 percent of the population has co-occurring mental health and substance abuse problems,” Joyce said.
Joyce said he is seeking a grant to increase treatment inside and outside the jail.
“We do what we can to stabilize (prisoners), but it is a triage,” he said.
Edes set the same goal as a way to reduce the rate of recidivism.
"After 35 years of law enforcement, I can't remember not dealing with someone who didn't have a mental health and/or an addiction problem,” Edes said. "You need to deal with the in-house and the followup, and right now there is no followup in treatment.”
He said he would also like to establish courts to deal with drug abusers and veterans who violate probation.
Joyce said he will continue the accreditation process for the jail and his department through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, while improving jail communications and video systems. He would also like to equip each jail housing area, called "pods," with computers to allow correction officers easier access to inmate records.
Jail operations have twice been marred by inmates sneaking into cells for sexual trysts during Joyce's tenure. The most recent incident happened March 8, when Joyce said jail employees failed to follow revised procedures for checking and locking doors.
Edes said Joyce's habit of blaming the problems on failed security have contributed to the department's morale problem. He said he wants to put more inmates to work during the day.
“You teach them a work ethic and have them doing something more than looking at an 8-by-8 cell," he said.
Both candidates said they support continued local control of the jail instead of oversight by the Maine Department of Corrections, as was suggested in February by former DOC Commissioner Joseph Ponte.
"The state prisons have a different structure," Joyce said. "We are the emergency rooms, we get (inmates) when they are in their worst situations."
On the patrol end of the spectrum, Joyce said he wants to continue training deputies in forensic and homicide investigating techniques and can envision a day when his office handles homicide cases now investigated by the Maine State Police.
He would also like to equip cruisers with a scanner that reads license plates, but said the expense might initially limit the technology to one unit.
Joyce and Edes both said they are concerned about more incidents of crimes against the elderly, whether in person, by phone or by computer.
Edes wants more community outreach, whether to help alert people about scamming techniques, or to reach young people at risk of substance abuse.
Joyce's career began 28 years ago as a reserve in the department. Edes began his career in 1979, and served in Cumberland and also served in Scarborough before joining the state police.
Joyce, who has a master's degree in business from Husson University and was trained in executive development by the FBI in Quantico, Virginia, said he will continue to make changes in the department and its policies, even if not everyone likes them.
"I am holding people accountable for their actions, and anytime you hold somebody accountable, you lose some people," he said.
Edes said his experience leading the union for state troopers and work on budgets in Cumberland will come into play when he is sheriff.
"I will take a look at the entire organization," he said. "There will be some reorganization, there will be reassignments, there will be more accountability for people in the leadership positions."