Sheriff exodus

Three local county sheriffs retiring

For The Weekly Post

The law enforcement scene is changing rapidly across the country – and locally.

All three sheriffs in counties where The Weekly Post circulates have announced they will not be seeking reelection next November.

That is part of a growing trend in Illinois. Peoria County Sheriff Brian Asbell said he has heard that 18 sheriffs in Illinois have left office since January.

“And the rumor is that 80 percent of the sheriffs are not going to run for reelection,” Asbell said.

 While each case is different, common motivations to quit include the difficulties associated with COVID, social unrest, new legislation and budget issues.

“The political climate has changed so much. The public perception of the profession has changed so much,” Fulton County Sheriff Jeff Standard said. “The press didn’t help that any in their one-sided coverage of some incidents that didn’t warrant it.”

Echoed Asbell, “Unfortunately, those in this profession, many of the good ones are getting out.”

Asbell, 49, announced his decision not to seek reelection on Nov. 30 during a meeting of the Peoria County Board. He was appointed sheriff in 2017 and won election in 2018.

He said many sheriffs are in second jobs, having retired from other law enforcement positions, and are eligible to receive pension payments. For many, he said, retirement seems a better option than the uncertain future of law enforcement.

“There are so many unknown factors with the new legislation and we still have not been provided specifics on all of it,” Asbell said. “And qualified immunity is still on the table on the state and federal level.”

Qualified immunity protects government officials as individuals from lawsuits over alleged violations of a plaintiff’s rights.

Asbell said the primary cause for him to step down after this term is because of “pending grievances.” He would not elaborate on those grievances.

Asbell did say his department has “lost 58 staff members since last March out of 179.”

“We’re going on almost two years of employees having to work 60 to 70 hours per week,” Asbell said.

Even should those positions be posted, though, filling them will be difficult, since sheriffs aren’t the only people leery of law enforcement jobs.
Standard, 56, has served four terms as Fulton County Sheriff and said hiring is more difficult now than ever before.

“We have one open position and we just completed testing and we had two viable applicants. That’s horrible,” Standard said. “When I tested I think there were 30 or 40 guys doing the testing 25 years ago.”

All of that “didn’t help at all” when Standard was making his decision whether to run again or not. Ultimately, though, he said, “It was a decision my wife and I have contemplated before all this. After four terms as sheriff it’s just time to move on and do something different.”

Two officers in the sheriff’s department have stepped up to run for Standard’s position: Detective Sergeant Jon Webb and Senior Deputy Jon Webb.

There is also a candidate in Knox County, where David Clague announced in August that we would not seek reelection. Clague has served as Sheriff since 2007. Prior to that he worked for 34 years with the Galesburg Police Department. Clague said in August that his decision was “based on a desire to open the field for any and all qualified candidates.”

Jack Harlan, a detective and K9 handler with the sheriff’s department, has announced he will run for the position.

Nobody has emerged to announce their candidacy in Peoria County, where Asbell said he had originally planned to work for a few more terms until he was 62.

“There’s some policy decisions we can’t come back from,” he said.

Asbell said he’s uncertain who would want to take his position.

“Anybody here in my administration that knows what we’ve been dealing with … [wouldn’t touch it] with a 10-foot pole,” Asbell said. “I have concerns for the future.”