Q&A with candidates for Knox Co. Sheriff

For The Weekly Post

Two candidates are running for Knox County Sheriff. Here are questions and answers from the two candidates, Republican Jack Harlan and Democrat James Robertson.

Question: Why are you running for Sheriff?

Jack Harlan: I served this great nation for over 20 years in peacetime and war and took an oath to serve and protect the Constitution of the United States and the people, just like every current public servant has. We need a strong leader who will ensure all laws are enforced equally, hold people accountable, and protect and defend our Constitutional rights. I know that I am that leader the community can count on.

James Robertson: I have committed 24 years of my career to public service, serving under three sheriff administrations. I have concluded I can make a difference in how we provide protection and services to Knox County and our communities by utilizing the tools we have at our disposal and capitalizing on those opportunities by holding each deputy accountable, being transparent and maintaining financial stewardship.

Q: What makes you the better candidate?

Harlan: My leadership and management experience. My leadership and management skills have been tested and proven outstanding through some of the toughest situations and environments. I am a leader who leads from the front. I will not require any of the men and women to do something that I myself will not do. I have dedicated my life to serving and defending my country and community for almost 30 years.
I will always have an open door and ear to listen to those upholding the vision of the Knox County’s Sheriff’s Department. I understand that this office is about “We the People” and I will always have your rights at the forefront and will never falter from my core values of faith, family and service.

Robertson: I have 24 years of law-enforcement experience with extensive executive-level experience specifically in law enforcement.
I’ve worked all facets of the sheriff’s department including patrol, jail, state and federal transports, and court-security. I’ve served as a field training officer and union president, all within the very office I am seeking. My experiences allow me to understand exactly how the sheriff’s department operates. I will be able to facilitate necessary changes and address any issues that arise from day one.

Q: What is the biggest crime problem in Knox County ?

Harlan: Drugs. I have readily seen that drugs are the root of most crimes committed. In the case of relapse, many will turn to crime to fulfill their needs. Violent crimes are common among hard drug users for this reason. With the change in the SAFE-T Act, offenders with drug and mental problems will be held in jail so we can get them the help they need.

Robertson: Drugs! Specifically, methamphetamine and heroin. These are contributing factors to property crimes like burglaries, thefts and many others. Providing resources so these individuals can seek treatment is an important issue especially when incarcerated. They are provided a list of facilities and resources they can seek when released from the jail, however the task at hand is getting it for them prior to incarceration or on their own accord.

Q: What is your view of the SAFE-T Act?

Harlan: There are a few things that I agree with in the SAFE-T Act. I’m perfectly fine with making us accountable, more transparent and better trained.
However, eliminating cash bail completely is not the way to go. What about victims of crimes? How is this protecting them?
And what happens when someone doesn’t show up to court? Judges will no longer be able to issue an arrest warrant if someone doesn’t appear. The court will now issue a subpoena and that order has to be taken and served upon that defendant within 48 hours of the hearing. If they are not served, they don’t have to appear.
In addition, the SAFE-T Act establishes a cite-and-release procedure for nonviolent crimes such as Class B and C misdemeanors, traffic offenses, petty, offenses and business offenses. What does that mean? Criminal trespass is a Class B misdemeanor in Illinois and currently law enforcement can detain for this offense. As of Jan 1, 2023, law enforcement will no longer be able to detain for this offense and only issue a citation, unless the suspect fails to provide identification or is a threat to one’s self or to the property owner.
We have to do better protecting the victims and property owners and the wording in this bill just doesn’t do it right now. In addition, when 100 of 102 states attorney’s disagree with the SAFE-T Act and over half of them have filed lawsuits citing constitutionality and public safety concerns, this should be a warning sign.

Robertson: I have the same views of the SAFE-T act as many of my peers in law enforcement. I agree with our current administration seeking litigation to reword many of the reforms as they would limit law enforcement to hold individuals accountable and strip away a vast amount of authority law enforcement needs to enforce statutes.
Trailer bills, as we call them, are nothing new when it comes to new laws however, the sheriff’s duties are to enforce statutes impartially, not to make them.
Instead of establishing an opinion or support about reforms, I put more focus on making sure the men and women of the Knox County Sheriff’s department will be properly trained to effectively enforce the new reforms come Jan. 1.
I believe it is better to be proactive rather than reactive (prepared) for the upcoming events rather than rely on them being repealed.

Q: Where did you grow up and where do you live now?

Harlan: I grew up in Abingdon and graduated from Abingdon High School. I currently reside in Knoxville with my wife, Frances Harlan. We have two boys, Noah (22) and Colton (16), and we raised my sister Brittney (25) after my father passed away.

Robertson: I mainly grew up in the Wataga- Oneida-Altona area. I graduated from ROWVA High School and currently live in the Lake Bracken area south of Galesburg.

Q: What is your law-enforcement background?

Harlan: I have been with the Knox County Sheriff’s Department as a full-time deputy since 2016. In addition to completing specialized training, I have been a field training officer, K9 Trainer and handler, lead homicide detective and a member of a specialized task force.
I have also served as the chief of police in East Galesburg, and as a patrol officer in Knoxville and Williamsfield.
Currently I am No. 1 on the sergeants’ promotion list at the Knox County Sheriff’s Department.

Robertson: I joined the sheriff’s auxiliary in 1997. In 1998, I worked as a police officer with the Village of East Galesburg and became a correctional deputy in the jail with the Knox County Sheriff’s department. During that time, I would fill in on patrol when there was a need. In 2011, I transferred to patrol on a permanent basis. During my tenure as a patrol deputy, I served as a field training officer, as union president for the patrol union and as a second-shift patrol supervisor for a short period before leaving the department in 2020.
In September 2014, I was appointed chief of police in Williamsfield and still serve in that position today. Since December of 2020, I have also worked for the Galva police department as a sergeant.