Sheriff Jim Kennedy talked about the challenges he's faced as a law enforcement leader. (Photo by Jack Dvorak)

By Jack Dvorak

A good investigative reporter is one of the biggest assets law enforcement agencies can have, Monroe County Sheriff Jim Kennedy told 37 Bloomington Press Club members and guests at the June 28  meeting.

Kennedy said when the media and law enforcement agencies work together, many good things can happen. But he also noted that people in these agencies need to know when the press is a friend and when it could be an enemy.

In his 40 years with various federal, state and local law enforcement entities, Kennedy said he and many others in the business have been to schools and special training sessions to learn how to deal properly with the media, and sometimes the instruction incorrectly labeled the media as an enemy.

“I have friends in the news media and have been blessed by that, and I have some reporters I don’t divulge everything to. The relationship must be based on trust,” Kennedy said.

He mentioned that not following federal and state open records laws on the part of some law enforcement agencies is “reprehensible and illegal” and as a result the relationships among media and the agencies are tenuous.

However, he said, “I’ve never had any real troubles with the media.”

Kennedy said that a large part of his job does not involve law enforcement as such but involves budgetary and personnel matters with county government.

For example, he oversees an annual budget of around $7 million, the largest share of which involves keeping the jail operating with its 60 full-time staff members. The correctional center serves about 850 meals a day to the approximately 250 inmates and staff members who work there, and this must be done within an allowance of $1.19 per meal.

Other departments that Kennedy supervises include the sheriff’s office itself with 32 deputies covering the 130,000 population of Monroe County; the Animal Control operation with its budget of more than $300,000; and the Central Emergency Dispatch Center, shared with the Bloomington Police Department and which is staffed by 10 full-time and one part-time dispatcher provided by the Sheriff’s Department with the remaining 13 employees being paid from city and other budgets.

Kennedy said he would like a larger staff of deputies, as at times only three are on duty in any one shift to serve the 394 square miles of the county. While Bloomington police might answer a call within three minutes for those in the city limits, sometimes it might take a sheriff’s deputy an hour to get to a distant place in the county, especially if the officers are attending to another call.

Also with regard to a tight budget, he said he regrets that his highest paid deputy makes less than the lowest paid IU police officer.

In order to stay within budgets, Kennedy said that while the Correctional Center is very clean, he has had to take some added belt-tightening measures to ensure inmate health and well-being. For example, he did away with a basketball hoop and a volleyball net in the courtyard because medical bills on a blown-out knee would cost the county $10,000.

Inmates are no longer involved in a work-release program, either, because many of them on such programs in the past would be responsible for bringing back to the jail contraband materials such as illegal drugs.

Kennedy said the county spends more than $500,000 in its latest budget for psychological help for prisoners, many of whom do not consider consequences of their behavior before committing crimes, the most common of which is theft. He said the recidivism rate for the inmates is about 67 percent.

Kennedy said the relationship between law enforcement and the media must be based on trust. (Photo by Jack Dvorak)

He said he would like to see more emphasis on crime prevention to occur when people are much younger, even for elementary school-aged children rather than having to spend so many resources after people have become young adults.

Kennedy was introduced by Press Club President Del Brinkman as “perhaps the most qualified sheriff in the country” because he earned a bachelor’s in business from IU, a law degree from the IU School of Law, and is also a graduate of the FBI’s National Academy. He is a retired colonel in the U.S. Army and has earned a diploma from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.

In addition to his holding the office of sheriff for the past three and a half years, Kennedy has also been a U.S. marshal, chief of the IU Police Department and chief of the Bloomington Police Department.

The next scheduled Press Club meeting is July 26 at the recently renovated Wells House across from IU’s Herman B Wells Library.

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