All three candidates in the Salem sheriff’s race spoke on their extensive law enforcement experience and merit as leaders during a Kiwanis Club meeting Tuesday.
Incumbent April Staton is being challenged by Richard Goodman of the Roanoke Sheriff’s Office, and Chris Shelor of the Salem Police Department.
A crowd of about 40 people sat to hear a candidate forum in the Salem Civic Center community room Tuesday at noon.
Generally, the duty of a sheriff’s department is to hold inmates in jail and to ensure all proceedings at the courthouse. Candidates during the forum Tuesday were given time to make opening and closing remarks, and to answer questions posed by Kiwanis club members.
Staton is a 20-year Salem resident, having joined the sheriff’s office in 2003. She worked through the ranks to chief deputy, and in 2017 was elected the fourth sheriff of Salem.
“Since taking office as a sheriff in 2018, my primary focus has been building my team, ensuring that we have strong policies and procedures, and that my employees are held accountable to those standards,” Staton said. “With 12 staff members, we do a lot as a small agency.”
Shelor, a Salem native, has worked for the city’s law enforcement since 2004, initially in the sheriff’s office. He is currently a detective.
“I’ve been in a lot of roles throughout the Salem sheriff’s office and the Salem police department,” Shelor said. “I have perspectives on the inside and outside of both offices.”
Goodman, a Democrat in his second consecutive run for the office, is a Roanoke native who served in the Marine Corps, then worked as a police officer in Roanoke County and Salem. He was in law enforcement in Georgia before returning to Roanoke to work for the sheriff’s office, where he’s been since 2012.
“I’ve been in law enforcement 29 and-a-half years,” Goodman said. “Under my leadership, the sheriff’s office will be more present in the community.”
Goodman and Shelor are in favor of more department training, specifically dual certification that would enable deputies to better aid police on the streets, if necessary.
“I think that the sheriff’s office can take some of the pressure off the police department,” Goodman said, adding the importance of interagency collaboration.
Shelor said the extra certification is a matter of readiness, especially when dealing with people who are suffering from ailing mental health.
“Law enforcement handling this stuff needs to be dual certified,” Shelor said. “If you’re not trained to do the task at hand, you need to be better equipped.”
Staton said the mental health system, specifically the time required to transport mental health patients, is one of the biggest challenges facing police and sheriff’s departments alike. Deputies sometimes drive eight hour round trips to get a patient committed to an available mental health facility elsewhere in Virginia.
“We’re all struggling with that, and it affects us a great deal. We spend a lot of hours after work,” Staton said. “That also affects the amount of wear and tear on our vehicles, because we are going all over the place.”
Shelor and Goodman agreed on the resource drain of mental health transports.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re law enforcement certified,” Staton said. “What I seek to do every day is to grow and develop my people into good humans, to be good people and good servants.”
All three candidates said their leadership abilities uniquely qualify them for the role of sheriff.
“I’ve strived to do the best I could in law enforcement, and to maintain and show compassion,” Goodman said. “My career, it’s meant a lot to me, because I’ve helped a lot of individuals along the way.”
“You got to lead by example,” Shelor said. “Leading by example means showing up to work, earning your paycheck, working hand-in-hand beside your deputies in court, wearing the uniform, the badge that you put on daily to serve your citizens of Salem.”
Election day is Nov. 2, but early voting is already underway at the Salem registrar’s office. The voter registration deadline is Monday, Oct. 11.
“Seems like we’re in good hands,” said forum moderator Paul Dotson. “No matter whoever gets elected.”
The sheriff serves a four-year term.