Ingham County Sheriff’s race pits 2 change candidates

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jrn-300-sheriff-race-tableBoth Republican candidate Eric Trojanowicz, a retired captain from the Ingham County Sheriff’s Office, and Democratic candidate Scott Wriggelsworth, a lieutenant with the East Lansing Police department, say they are the change the Ingham County Sheriff Department needs. Trojanowicz says he will not run things “the Wriggelsworth way” but has the experience to make change. Wriggelsworth said he is the change because he comes from outside the department but still has law enforcement experience.

They are vying for the position recently vacated by Wriggelsworth’s father. Gene Wriggelsworth has served seven terms, totaling 28 years. This makes him the longest in-office Ingham County sheriff.

Wriggelsworth’s last name associates him  with his father. Trojanowicz  said his opponent has pledged to run things “the Wriggelsworth way,” and added that he is the change, not Wriggelsworth.

“We need a change in Ingham County. I’ve seen the good and bad, and right now there’s more bad than good there,” Trojanowicz said.

Newman said

Alexa Walkowicz

Newman said he is voting for Trojanowicz, because he will bring a fresh perspective.

Trojanowicz’s supporters agree. Ingham County registered voter Rob Newman said he thought Trojanowicz’s experience in the sheriff’s office would give him a fresh perspective.

“We need someone new in there, I’ve known (Sheriff Gene Wriggelsworth) too long,” Newman said. “It would be the same thing as his dad being in there — same theories.”

Wriggelsworth acknowledged the advantage that name recognition would give him.

“There’s no secret that the Wriggelsworth name, in this county, is very well known,” Wriggelsworth said. “I wouldn’t trade my last name for anything.”

However, he said he is making an effort to distinguish himself from his father.

“One of the things I’ve tried to do for the last two years is, I guess, instill in this community that it’s me that’s running for the office, not my father,” Wriggelsworth said. “We’re not clones of each other, although the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

MSU public relations professor and owner of Kolt Communications, Inc. Robert Kolt said he thought both candidates have name recognition.

“Both have good name recognition because Wriggelsworth’s father was actually the sheriff for a long time,” Kolt said. “Trojanowicz has a father that’s legendary in community policing and a teacher here at the university.”

During his time as a criminal justice professor at MSU, Robert Trojanowicz was widely considered the leading academic advocate for community policing, focused on relationship building and prevention. He founded and directed the National Center for Community Policing, as well as serving as the School of Criminal Justice’s director for a time.

Kolt said that Gene Wriggelsworth has largely avoided scandal during his time as sheriff. He acknowledged that Wriggelsworth has had some issues with transparency, mentioning a lawsuit filed against him in September of this year regarding contaminated evidence. A sewage leak in the basement of the sheriff’s office in 2012 resulted in evidence being contaminated and ultimately destroyed.

Kolt said that though there was no major scandal or error, the lack of upfront communication four years ago could have a negative effect on Scott Wriggelsworth’s campaign. However, Kolt said he expects Wriggelsworth to win.

“I would lay odds that Wriggelsworth is going to be elected because of his father’s service and tradition,” Kolt said. “The fact is that Ingham County is largely Democratic and I would expect that this would be a Democratic year.

“High Democratic turnout in the presidential race should benefit and help Wriggelsworth and other Democrats down on the ticket.”

Feldpausch said

Alexa Walkowicz

Feldpausch said political party should not be a factor in the race for sheriff, though she thinks it will be.

Ingham County registered voter Sara Feldpausch said party politics should not decide a sheriff election.

“I think it will affect a lot of how the race will play out,” Feldpausch said. “I don’t think it should be a factor, but I think it will be.”

Trojanowicz agreed, saying in his personal opinion the office should not be Democratic or Republican.

“But it is,” Trojanowicz said, “and it is what it is. That’s a little bit of an advantage for him, because we are in a Democratic county. Overall, experience-wise, putting both of our qualifications side by side, there’s no question. I’m the more qualified candidate.”

Candidates’ qualifications

Trojanowicz has 25 years of experience working in the Ingham County sheriff’s office. During that time he has served in every leadership role from sergeant to captain.

“Vote for the most qualified candidate, regardless of party affiliation. If they look at my resume and his resume, what I have to offer and what he has to offer, there’s a stark difference,” Trojanowicz said. “I know what needs to be done to provide the best quality service to the citizens of Ingham County.”

He specifically brought up the Ingham County jail, saying that while Wriggelsworth has never managed a jail, he has. He said he is familiar with the issues, challenges and processes that go into managing a 600-bed facility.

Trojanowicz is a retired captain from the Sheriff's Department. He has 25 years of experience.

Alexa Walkowicz

Trojanowicz is a retired captain from the Sheriff’s Department. He has 25 years of experience.

“Coming from the outside, trying to get that knowledge of the sheriff’s office, it’s going to take {Wriggelsworth} a while, trying to get it,” Trojanowicz said. “I’m not going to miss a beat. I can get in there and start running the place from day one.”

Wriggelsworth acknowledged his inexperience managing a jail. However, he said he feels confident he can learn quickly.

“It’s an amazing opportunity in front of me, a little bit bigger department. With the corrections division, I’ve got a lot to learn about, so I’m embracing the challenge.”

Wriggelsworth has 22 years of experience working in the East Lansing Police Department, serving different roles during his time, also. He said this is a benefit, since he will bring in an outside perspective.

Wriggelsworth is a Lieutenant from the East Lansing Police Department. He has 22 years of experience.

Courtesy of Scott Wriggelsworth.

Wriggelsworth is a Lieutenant from the East Lansing Police Department. He has 22 years of experience.

“I’m the change. I’ve never worked a day at the sheriff’s office. Yeah, my last name might be the same, but I think we know there’s going to be a new sheriff, Wriggelsworth said. “I’ve worked for a different police department, a college town. My opponent’s the establishment and I think in 2016, we’ve got to be a different type of police officer.

“I’ve proven that I’ve tried to instill that in our employees around here and I plan to do

the same thing at the sheriff’s office in the future.”

Ingham County registered voter Tim St. Marie said he respects the job Gene Wriggelsworth has done and thinks that dependability will carry over to his son’s term.

“I think he does a pretty good job,” said Jacob Lott, Ingham County registered voter and family friend of Scott Wriggelsworth. “I also have a lot of friends who work over in the sheriff’s office and I think they get along with him and his politics pretty well.”

Looking beyond their qualifications, Kolt noted that Trojanowicz and Wriggelsworth take similar stances on many issues relevant to the sheriff’s office.

“It’s remarkable, I think, to the public how close they both are on real substantive issues,” Kolt said.

What is the biggest issue facing the sheriff’s office?

Both men said the biggest issue facing the sheriff’s office today is the budget. The opponents differ on how to face this challenge, however. Trojanowicz emphasized the importance of having a working relationship with the Board of Commissioners, who control the county’s budget. He says that relationship has been lacking recently.

Trojanowicz also plans to reduce the number of administrative staff. Because of his experience in the sheriff’s office, he feels he will be able to restructure the office, saving money and not raising taxes.

“That’s my number one priority: to get more people on the roads of Ingham County,” Trojanowicz said. “We’re being so reactive to things in the county right now. We need to get back to being proactive— working with the community to solve crimes.”

Wriggelsworth agreed that a proactive approach to policing is necessary. He differs from Trojanowicz’s community policing plan, favoring a plan modeled after East Lansing’s behavioral assessment unit.

“There’s nothing to say that the police can’t stop by somebody that their life is in crisis,” Wriggelsworth said, “and knock on the door and say, ‘we know you’re struggling. What can we do, who can I rally around you to point you in the right direction?’”

Better time management is the key to freeing up officers to be proactive and involved in the community, Wriggelsworth said. He will encourage better time management by helping officers refocus.

“Money means people, it’s just that simple. When you have a lack of people, that means a lack of free time to do some of these things,” Wriggelsworth said. “We just need to re-instill in them how important it is, that a little emotional investment in people, compassionate investment in people, now you never know what kind of benefits that’s going to reap down the road.”

Deputies in schools

The candidates also agree on  the need to invest in the community’s youth.

Trojanowicz said early interaction with students would deter them from committing crimes.

“As of right now we only have one police officer in the schools in Ingham County, and that’s the whole school district,” Wriggelsworth said. “I’m a firm believer that we need officers in every school, interacting with our youth.”

Ingham County contains 12 public school districts, which include 89 campuses. Currently, the Sheriff Department employs 11 deputies for out-county patrol, covering 13 townships, Wriggelsworth said.

Wriggelsworth said that being present in the schools is an important part of improving the community.

“I think we need to reinvest, or invest more, in our kids, and when I say invest, that doesn’t necessarily mean paying for programs. It means spending time with our kids,” Wriggelsworth said. “The more we can be positive role models for kids out there, the better off the community is going to be.”

Diversity in law enforcement

Wriggelsworth also said that this early interaction can encourage youth to be interested in a career in law enforcement.

“Now more than ever we need good young men and women to want to get into our profession, especially young men and women of color, with all that’s going on in the country,” Wriggelsworth said. “What I happening see all too often now is, in this day and age, sixth, seventh, eighth graders— all they ever hear about is ‘cops are bad. Cops did bad stuff. They’re untrustworthy.’ So, who in their right mind would want to join an organization that all they’ve ever heard about is negativity?

“The more positive interactions we can have, the more these kids will trust the police, the more the community will trust police.”

Community expectations of sheriff

Trojanowicz said he will be innovative as sheriff, improving and building on community relations.

“I’m a big proponent of that philosophy where we have officers in the neighborhood acting with the citizens and working together to solve crimes,” Trojanowicz said, “because us as police agencies cannot solve crimes by ourselves. We need to get the help of our citizens.”

Wriggelsworth said innovation is critical because the community expects a different kind of police officer in 2016. He said driving around in an old patrol car, with a paper ticket book and a baton no longer works. He said being reactive is no longer good enough.

“You policed differently back 50 years ago; we policed differently back in 1994 when I started at East Lansing PD, so you have to be able to be fluid and ever changing,” Wriggelsworth said. “Now I think the community expects a different police officer than they did even 10 years ago, so I think I’ve shown my ability to understand what the community expects from law enforcement and I’m willing to adapt to the type of police officer people want in this community.”

Ingham County registered voter Lance Bloom said “equally upholding the law and unbiased police work” is what makes a good sheriff and is what he will look for when choosing a candidate.

Similarly, Ingham County registered voter and assistant professor of fisheries and wildlife Amber Peters said she will look for a candidate who will be sensitive to the national climate surrounding police officers and the African American community.


Alexa Walkowicz

Bloom said he looks for unbiased police work when deciding which candidate to vote for.

“It needs to be someone who will take into account police officer and suspect relations,” Peters said, “so that both sides are treated fairly.”

John Bartow, who voted by absentee ballot, said he couldn’t remember exactly who he voted for. He said he probably voted for Wriggelsworth.

“The sheriff doesn’t really have an interest in me,” Bartow said.

Ingham County resident Gwenn Case said the only issue she cares about when electing a sheriff is if the candidate shows concern for the community.

“Just concern for the community,” Case said. “That’s it.”

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