In NAACP forum, Douglas County sheriff candidates give thoughts on drug activity, white supremacists, body cameras
photo by: Screenshot
Candidates for Douglas County sheriff on Saturday answered questions about drug activity, white supremacists and body cameras for law enforcement during a forum hosted by the Lawrence branch of the NAACP.
Three candidates — Lt. Jay Armbrister, Deputy Dale Flory and Capt. Doug Woods — are vying for the Democratic vote in the primary election that will almost certainly determine the next sheriff, as no Republicans filed.
Ursula Minor, president of the Lawrence NAACP, asked the candidates to give their assessments of drug, gang and white supremacist activity in Douglas County.
Flory said he wishes he could say none of those things was a problem, but that’s not the case. He said he believes alcohol, a depressant, is “at the top,” and beyond that, opioids, methamphetamine, marijuana and heroin tend to be most prevalent. That’s why deputies and other sheriff’s office employees on the road now carry Narcan, a nasal spray that can treat narcotics overdoses in emergencies. He said that although he thinks Douglas County is “fortunate” to be located between Topeka and Kansas City, most local gang activity is generated by gangs from those cities.
He said “we know” that white supremacist activity exists, and that most of those individuals are associated with motorcycle gangs. He said that some of them live in Lawrence but that they don’t generally cause problems locally.
Woods said he doesn’t think most people in Lawrence really understand how bad the problems of meth and heroin are. He said the majority of crimes are committed by someone under the influence of drugs, or in connection with trying to buy or get more drugs. He said that with Lawrence being between Topeka and Kansas City, people want to come to Lawrence and have a good time, but there is sometimes a “criminal element” that may bring drugs into town to sell.
Woods said that white supremacists do exist in Lawrence neighborhoods and people can be seen flying the Confederate flag. He also mentioned a banner that was found in South Park on June 27, saying it was an “extremely hurtful and hateful event that occurred” and it created a lot of issues in Lawrence. The graphic banner, which depicted a lynching, sparked a protest that occupied a section of Massachusetts Street for several days.
Armbrister said he’s not that knowledgeable about gang activity, but that in Douglas County “we suffer a lot” being stuck between two metropolitan locations. He said he thinks the drug situation seems dire, but easy changes could help. He suggested decriminalizing marijuana, taxing it and freeing up time spent enforcing those laws; the time and funds could then be used to combat meth and heroin.
He said he thinks most white supremacists have “gone underground” and now spew hate from keyboards anonymously, though overt acts do occur. Working in the jail, he said he still sees inmates with tattoos of hate groups, Nazi symbolism and “white pride.” He said white supremacist movements still exist, and they need to be called out and challenged.
Minor also asked the candidates what they saw as the pros and cons of body cameras for law enforcement.
Armbrister said he’s “absolutely, 100% for” body cameras, and that the cost for equipment is low but the cost for data retention is high. He said the dashcam footage from his patrol vehicle has saved him from complaints and the cameras will “cover you,” but they also allow the sheriff to see if there is a problem. He said he would be concerned about privacy if entire 12-hour shifts were recorded, including breaks and such.
Flory said he was asked to test a body camera system within the warrants division, and at first he was hesitant, but he quickly saw that it was an “invaluable tool to protect the deputy and the public we serve.” He said he would implement body cameras for all patrol and warrant deputies, and he was unaware of any cons that would change his mind.
Woods said he would implement body cameras for every member of the agency, including patrol, detectives, court deputies and corrections officers. He said the purchase of servers for data storage was by far the biggest cost, but he said the cameras would allow for better collection of evidence and show exactly what’s going on. Supervisors could review footage for complaints, as well as conduct routine spot checks. He said they’re great tools that “we must and will have” — it’s just a matter of how to pay for them.
The video of the full forum is available online on the Lawrence NAACP’s Facebook page, facebook.com/LawrenceKSNAACP.
Advance ballots have been mailed out and early voting has begun. Visit douglascountyelections.com for more information or to request an advance ballot by July 28. The primary election is on Aug. 4.
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More 2020 election coverage: Douglas County sheriff race
• May 29, 2020: Douglas County undersheriff withdraws from race for sheriff
• April 21, 2020: Captain files to run for Douglas County Sheriff in 2020 election
• Oct. 16, 2018: Lieutenant files to run for Douglas County sheriff in 2020