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Voting for Kent County Sheriff: Stelma focuses on school resource officers for community policing, heroin addiction

On November 8, Kent County voters will elect a Sheriff, who oversees the security of the county courts and the jail in Grand Rapids. This article is part six in a series of six in which each candidate sat down for an in-depth interview.
The Kent County Sheriff's Office has school resource officers in 6 out of the 8 school districts in the county.

The Kent County Sheriff's Office has school resource officers in 6 out of the 8 school districts in the county. /Amy Carpenter-Leugs

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Lawrence Stelma is running for his fifth term as Kent County Sheriff.

Lawrence Stelma is running for his fifth term as Kent County Sheriff. /Amy Carpenter-Leugs

In part one and part two of his interviews, Republican candidate and current Kent County Sheriff Lawrence Stelma described the scope of the Sheriff's office and the steps taken toward diversity and inclusion. 

Community policing

When asked about improving the relationships between the community and law enforcement, Stelma pointed to school resource officers. “Our first contact with many of these young people is in the school. There are eight different school districts in Kent County, not including Grand Rapids, that the Sheriff’s office is responsible for. We have school resource officers in six of those districts.”

“If a kid gets involved in some trouble in school, that school resource officer is there to build relationships with them, provide diversion before that kid gets sent to juvenile court, help that kid process through making good choices, and be a role model for that child. In that process, the officer is in the home, meets the parents, and builds that relationship. We have developed some very strong relationships with our parents in schools, from a kid who may have lipped off to a teacher…the officer spent time with him, asked, ‘Why did you do that, what are you looking for?' and tried to get to root causes.”

The heroin epidemic

Regarding the heroin epidemic that has arisen as controls have tightened on prescription medication abuse, Stelma said: “Our first line of attack with that is our school resource officers in every school. If we really want to impact the heroin problem, we need to impact our young people at a very early age and get them to understand the dangers of substance abuse, whether it’s heroin, or sneaking Mom or Dad’s beer. This is why I’m so committed to school resource officers.”

“On the other end, we were one of the first agencies supplied with Narcan [a nasal spray that reverses an opioid overdose]. All of our officers carry it. We’ve had numerous saves with it.”  

“I work on a couple of different heroin task forces trying to address this issue, working on aggressive law enforcement and interdiction [disrupting supply]. But I don’t ever claim that we’re going to be able to arrest our way out of this issue, or seize enough [supply] coming through the various means to get ourselves out of this issue. By the time people are that addicted to heroin, from an enforcement standpoint, there’s not a lot we can do about it. That's why we want to educate our kids, so they won't go down that road of addiction.”

When asked about medication-assisted treatment for heroin addiction within the corrections facility, Stelma responded that the independent medical practitioners at the jail are not county employees. It is their policy not to prescribe Methadone because it is also addictive. “They use other meds that are not addictive. The addicts claim the other drugs are not as effective. But I have to rely on the professional doctors who feel it’s counterproductive to treat one addiction by making them addicted to something else. That’s true in the majority of correctional institutions. The one exception is for a pregnant female, where there’s potential to have a negative impact on the fetus."

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