Veteran officers seek county sheriff post

Published 11:19 pm Saturday, November 1, 2008

Two veteran law enforcement officers are campaigning to be Lawrence County’s next sheriff, replacing Tim Sexton, who declined to run for a third term.

Current chief deputy Jeff Lawless, a Republican, wants to take over his boss’s job starting next year.

Running as an Independent in the sheriff’s race is Chesapeake Police Chief Russell Bennett.

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“I’m a lawman through and through,” Lawless said when asked why he is running.

Lawless has 22 years’ experience in law enforcement starting in 1986 when he served as corrections officer in the administration of then sheriff Dan Hieronimus. Within three years he was promoted to corporal with the responsibility of supervising the night shift.

He left the sheriff’s office and joined the SWAT team at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, the only plant in the country which then made and still stores bomb-grade uranium.

Lawless returned to the sheriff’s office with the election of Sexton, first as a jail administrator, then added the promotion of chief deputy to his resume. He is a certified jail administrator, firearms instructor, member of the Buckeye State Sheriff’s Association, the Facilities Governing Board of STAR Community Justice Center, American Jail Association, Local Emergency Planning Committee, Lawrence County Homeland Security Committee, Tri-State Law Enforcement Council, Lawrence County Drug and Major Crime Task Force and Lawrence County Community Corrections Board. He is also regional coordinator of Ohio Homeland Security.

“The office of sheriff is an exciting and demanding job and I feel I can best serve the citizens of Lawrence County in that position by providing safety and security,” he said. “Being from Lawrence County and loving this county, with my knowledge I have a lot to bring forth.”

As far as plans for the office, Lawless would like to expand on the school resource officer program, but says budgetary problems would put that on the immediate back burner.

“I would hope down the road to have another officer or two,” Lawless said. “I cannot without more funding put on more deputies. I would love to have 20 more deputies on the road. It is not feasible.”

He would also like to expand the Neighborhood Watch program, he said. Currently there are four such programs in the county.

“The more active a community is the safer it will become,” Lawless said. “The people are our eyes and ears. They can inform us with what is going on to provide us with a lot more intelligence.”

Another goal of Lawless if elected would be to expand the Rome Township satellite office that is currently manned on a part-time basis.

“It is not in full operation. I would like to expand on it, get a staff officer in that area,” he said. “I will be an active sheriff, out in the community, in our schools, in our neighborhoods, meeting with business people throughout the county. I won’t be locked behind the desk of the sheriff.”

Bennett has been chief for the past 16 years and with the village force for a total of 26 years. Retired from Ashland Inc.’s Superamerica Division, where he was a manager of six stores, Bennett is currently owner of an Exxon convenience store.

Bennett, who grew up in Proctorville, is an Army veteran and a member of American Legion Post 640. This is the second time Bennett has sought the sheriff’s office.

“I think I have the experience of working with large amounts of budget with my manager’s experience with Ashland Oil and running my own business,” he said. “I have the police experience. I would like to clean the county up. This thieving in the county. Outbuildings broken into. Lawnmowers being stolen.”

He also sees as a problem he would correct is the response time for calls to the sheriff’s office.

“I would work with schools, educate kids about drugs, clean up some of the drugs in Lawrence County from one end to the other,” Bennett said. “To have a lot better communication with what we have now. I would start a Coffee with the Sheriff, if you have any complaints. You have to have eyes and ears out in your community. People have to let you know what is going on so you can concentrate on their problems.”

Bennett would also like to see the county jail updated and would see if there were any federal and state grants or any financial assistance from the private sector to pay for upgrades.

“It needs to be cleaned up. It is unfit for human beings to be back there,” he said. “Just cause you go to jail doesn’t mean you’re not a human being. … (I would) just wait until I get in to see how that budget is. Try to get more patrols and cut down on the thieving. Check these local flea markets and see what is stolen. You have to have good communication skills.”