Election 2018: Watson, Gailius running for St. Clair County sheriff
Name: Nicholas “Nick” Gailius
Office seeking: St. Clair County Sheriff
City of residence: Fairview Heights
Campaign website: gailiusforsheriff.com
Why are you running and why should people vote for you? St. Clair County is plagued with crime because public safety is not our top priority. There are times when only two deputies are patrolling our entire county. Equally concerning is that the equipment our deputies are expected to use is in poor or non-functioning condition. The Sheriff should be an independent voice for our citizens, and be willing to publicly challenge those in office, including the County Board, when safety is not prioritized. Also, the Sheriff must demonstrate the ability to unite and work with law enforcement, mayors and community members throughout the county. In times of crisis, the Sheriff must have the training, experience and skills to assist or lead in any given circumstance. Above all, the Sheriff must be a person of the highest integrity. He must hold himself and those he leads to the highest standards for proper and professional behavior. The Sheriff must care for the well being of others before himself. I can do a better job than the current Sheriff as proven track record as a police leader. I will be the voice of those who continue to suffer because of inadequate public safety.
What qualifications do you have for this position? I have risen through the ranks of the Fairview Heights Police Department over 30 years, and was blessed to served as the Police Chief from 2010 to July 2018, when I chose to retire to focus on running for Sheriff. I have been honored to receive numerous awards for my law enforcement leadership, including the 2017 Illinois Police Chief of the Year and a police chief’s lifetime leadership award. I am a graduate of the prestigious FBI National Academy and the Southern Police Institute. I have an MBA Degree, as well as a bachelor’s degree and an Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice. I have significant experience in leading the responses to large scale incidents, including command of the entire Metro-East response following the Ferguson Grand Jury verdict in 2014. I am a recognized innovator in policing in St. Clair County. My initiatives include: The first Citizens Police Academy in St. Clair County; the first Safe Exchange Zone for Internet Purchasers; a Rape Aggression Defense Class for Women; creator of Metro-East Cadets of Policing for youth; and, I was the only Police Chief in the county to start an anti-heroin initiative to get help for those who are suffering addiction.
What’s the biggest public safety issue in St. Clair County and how would you address it? Crime, the fear of crime, and its spread into areas that have historically had low crime rates is our biggest public safety issue. These issues, combined, are the most pressing concerns facing our county. Citizens have expressed their concerns regarding delayed response times and poor visibility of deputies on patrol. St. Clair County, indexed per capita, has twice the rate of violent crimes than elsewhere in Illinois. And, St. Clair County had 3 times the number of violent crimes as our neighbor, Madison County, in 2016. The clearance rate (where the case is solved and suspects are identified) is substantially lower in St. Clair County. To combat this issue, we must develop innovative strategies that identify problems and attack them head on. The Sheriff’s Office must be data driven, using facts to determine the best strategies to reduce crime. This includes focusing efforts on higher crime locations and prioritizing our energy towards putting repeat violent offenders into prison. We must work closely with community organizations, especially those who mentor our young people, to provide them with positive alternatives. And, we must develop strategies to reduce opioid addiction while pressing our efforts to bring dealers of hard drugs to justice.
In April 2017, voters rejected a sales tax increase for public safety and for jail upgrades. Would you support another effort to increase public safety funding through a local tax increase? Why or why not? In 2017, citizens voted overwhelmingly (60%) in opposition to this tax increase. The priorities of the county leaders do not match those of our citizens. The opinions expressed to me by most citizens is that the county has chosen to spend taxpayer money on non-essential governmental projects. Until our citizens can be convinced otherwise, I see little hope of passing any countywide tax increases in the future.
We do have critical public safety problems. The number of deputies on patrol has been dangerously cut by 42% since 2010, and there is currently a hiring freeze. St. Clair County has 27 deputies assigned to patrol duties, compared to 44 deputies on patrol in Madison County. Our deputies are underpaid compared to their counterparts in similarly situated counties. Our jail facility has deteriorated past the point of being safe and past the point of repair.
Finally, the specific details of the proposed tax increase were so loosely written, the definitions of what would be considered public safety were wide open. There were no guarantees that this public safety money would not be used to offset current operating expenses. I do not support a sales tax increase at this time.
Do you believe changes need to be made to the St. Clair County Courthouse? If so, what changes? One of the responsibilities of the Sheriff is to provide for security of the courthouse. Sadly, we live in a world where mass violence can occur anywhere, and effective measures need to be in place to protect the innocent. Early in my tenure as Sheriff, I will order a security assessment of the courthouse. I will work with the court and county leaders to ensure this is and remains a safe work space. As police chief, I ordered the same assessments of our City Hall security and made recommended changes. We will also perform intruder tests to make sure security works as intended. Finally, we will ensure all employees are properly trained on what to do and how to respond to an active shooter or other life-threatening situation.
Do you believe changes need to be made to how the sheriff’s department is run? If so, what changes? As already discussed, the Sheriff’s Office is suffering from a lack of adequate staffing, both in the jail and on patrol. There are times when only two deputies patrol the whole county, and correctional officers are often outnumbered 100 to 1 by inmates. It is imperative that a staffing study is performed to determine the needs of our core missions – patrol services and jail oversite. This can be handled by staff who are familiar with conducting a proper study. This staffing study will be published for all of our citizens to see and understand. A review of all assignments that are not part of patrol duties or part of the correctional officer duties, will be reviewed and prioritized to achieve the needs of our mission. Meeting our basic needs must come first. I will also use technologies to allow citizens more convenient and economical service. This includes online reporting and telephone reporting capabilities. I have also observed there are a number of people in supervisory roles who do not supervise anyone. Rather, they work in a special assignment or are assigned to desk duties. These individuals were appointed to be leaders in the organization and need to fulfill that responsibility.