For the Hungry Horse News
A handful of hopeful candidates are positioning themselves to become the next sheriff of Flathead County, almost a year in advance of the election.
Two of three candidates, Brian Heino and Keith Stahlberg, hold current positions at the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office, and the third, Calvin Beringer, has prior experience with the local Sheriff’s Office.
Current Flathead County Sheriff Chuck Curry, meanwhile said it’s too early for him to make an announcement. Curry has served as sheriff since January 2011. He ran as a Republican in the last election.
Heino, Stahlberg and Beringer are all running as Republicans, and have filed with Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices, which allow a candidate to start raising money.
Each of the new candidates said they would bring a unique point of view to the department.
Patrol Commander Heino said his wealth of positions within the agency give him a leg up on the competition.
Heino said his positions with the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office include deputy, corporal, sergeant, SAR coordinator, Posse/Reserve coordinator, SWAT team leader and a drug task force agent.
Heino said his broad experience within the department gives him a solid understanding of how the agency works, and the important role law enforcement plays in the community.
“I’ve had all these opportunities and experiences and I think that’s why I want to give back,” Heino said.
Stahlberg said his “boots-on-the-ground” approach would benefit the local agency. He’s the Sergeant on Patrol with the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office.
“All of my 17-plus years in law enforcement has been on patrol,” Stahlberg said. “I have a pulse on the valley because I am directly involved in it.”
Stahlberg said he sees the frustrations of taxpayers, victims of crime and of his fellow law enforcement officers on a daily basis. Stahlberg said he would focus on giving officers the tools they need to succeed.
Beringer said his varied background with the military, law enforcement and the private sector would contribute to his ability to lead the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office.
“If you look at smaller law enforcement agencies across the states, you see they are in transition from what we used to do 25 or 30 years ago,” Beringer said.
The agencies are beginning to start operating more like businesses, he said.
“We will never get to the point where we don’t need taxpayer money, but we do need to spend wisely,” Beringer said.
Beringer said he would make sure the agency does the proper research to make the right choices, as well as take advantage of resources within the community.
“We have to work with the community to decide what is best,” he said. “Quality law enforcement increases the ability of the people in the valley.”
Heino said he also hopes to strengthen relationships between law enforcement and community groups to tackle some of the big issues facing the valley.
“One person isn’t going to solve issues such as drug addiction and mental health,” Heino said. “Those are community solutions.”
Stahlberg echoed these sentiments, emphasizing the need for law enforcement and residents to come together for a “collective vision.”
Each of the candidates also mentioned strengthening the connections between the Sheriff’s Office and other law enforcement agencies.
Addressing overcrowding at the county detention center is another priority for each of the candidates.
“No matter who becomes sheriff, it has to be addressed and it has to be addressed now,” Stahlberg said.
Candidates also expressed the need for the Sheriff’s Office to grow and respond to changes within the valley.
Community expansion can bring benefits such as added job opportunities, but it can also lead to an increase in crime, Heino said.
“We are in an exciting and scary time,” he added.
Stahlberg said he would work to update technology and increase communication between officers. This includes improving radio coverage within the valley.
“We rely on our radios,” he said. “It’s a lifeline to dispatch and it’s our lifeline to other deputies.”
Heino said he would help to modernize the way law enforcement works to respond to the changing nature of crime.
“We have to be better prepared for law enforcement problems that may even be unseen at this point, including the way the internet is being used for illegal activity.”
Beringer said as sheriff, he would like to expand programs to protect seniors from crime, including fraud, and increase law enforcement presence in schools.
Each of the candidates for Flathead County sheriff said their decision to run was based on personal long-term goals, as well as from encouragement they had received from friends and family.
Heino said he welcomed his opponents bid for sheriff.
“I know the other candidates well and we are all going to come at this with different ideas. I think it’s the right of the voters to have that choice,” He said. “I support them and their endeavors because that is the way democracy works.”
The official candidacy filing date begins Jan. 11 and ends March 12, 2018. The primary for this election race will be held June 5, 2018. The general election is Nov. 6, 2018.
Reporter Breeana Laughlin can be reached at 758-4441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.