There's a new sheriff in town — and he has a new chief deputy

There's a new sheriff in town — and he has a new chief deputy

URBANA — Dustin Heuerman admits that Tuesday's landslide vote to make him the first Democratic sheriff in Champaign County since 1934 came as a surprise.

But the 37-year-old Champaign man is "looking forward to a good transition" and he's confident that his choice for chief deputy can help with that.

Heuerman confirmed Friday that he has chosen Shannon Barrett, 43, an Urbana police officer who lives in that city, to be his second in command.

The two come from professional backgrounds with relatively little supervisory experience. They find themselves in charge of police protection for about 80,000 citizens outside of Champaign and Urbana in an area covering 998 square miles.

And they will run a law-enforcement operation that employs 155 deputies, correctional officers, court security officers and support staff who care for and protect an average of about 150 prisoners in house.

"I am excited, and, honestly, I didn't expect to win," said Heuerman, who worked as a road deputy in the sheriff's office for about two-and-a-half years from 2007 to 2010. "I wanted to win and had a lot of supporters, but realistically, I knew the chances were slim, and I didn't expect to win by that margin."

His Republican opponent, Allen Jones of Rantoul, a 29-year employee of the Champaign County Sheriff's Office, said in a Facebook post Friday afternoon that he will retire Nov. 23. As the chief deputy to outgoing Sheriff Dan Walsh, Jones was an at-will employee, not enjoying union or civil-service protections.

Heuerman said his experience working under Walsh as a road deputy on second and third shifts was good. His relationship with Jones, who was his lieutenant, was not as good and part of the reason he moved on to his position at Lake Land College in Mattoon, where he is program coordinator and adviser for the criminal justice program. He is also a part-time police officer there.

Heuerman has bachelor's and master's degrees in criminology and a doctorate of education in community-college leadership. He is also a member of the Illinois Community College Board.

With the election over, Heuerman said he and Barrett are putting together an agenda to improve morale in the department and get things done like consolidating the jails, trying to limit the number of mentally ill people who are jailed, getting more deputies hired, and increasing training for deputies and correctional officers.

The openly gay sheriff said he did not choose Barrett, who is openly lesbian, because of her choice of a life partner. Each of them is married — Heuerman to a Carle Foundation Hospital nurse and Barrett to a nurse practitioner who also runs her own aesthetics business dispensing botox and dermal fillers.

"Her sexuality had nothing to do with it. I have known her for several years. I worked with her when I was a deputy, and we have stayed in touch," he said. "I need somebody I can really trust in the No. 2 position, and she is going to bring a female perspective that will help serve our community better."

'New adventure'

Barrett said she and Heuerman talked about that elephant in the room before she agreed to join him in the office.

"We know that's going to be the perception. He assured me that was not the reason he chose me," she said, adding that he approached her months ago, and she went back and forth considering it.

"He and I worked together years ago when he was at the county, and we've been friends since," she said.

She admits to being "scared and excited" but ready for a "new adventure."

"Nobody has ever gotten this opportunity to go from patrol straight up," she said of her promotion to management.

"We're going in and trying to learn the job before we start making big decisions," she said.

Barrett joined the Urbana Police Department in 2005 after leaving the Champaign County Court Services Office, where she was a probation officer for six years. She is one of the more senior patrol officers.

At Urbana, she has served for six years as a field training officer, training new hires in the ways of street work. She also serves as a hostage negotiator for the METRO team, the special tactical unit that includes Urbana, Champaign County, University of Illinois, Mahomet, Parkland and Rantoul police officers.

"She is well-liked. She gets along with everybody," said Urbana interim Deputy Chief Bob Fitzgerald.

Making the rounds

Heuerman said that both he and Barrett are very approachable, and he hopes that trait will "help us advance the sheriff's office and provide a higher level of service."

On Thursday, Walsh accompanied Heuerman around the office and the courthouse to meet and get re-acquainted with employees.

"I met with most of the lieutenants and Capt. Shane Cook. I reassured them that as long as we can move on from this election, and they're good at their jobs, they have nothing to worry about," he said. "I can't guarantee there won't be any kind of change eventually."

Heuerman said Walsh told him that he's in the process of interviewing for deputy positions. Walsh noted the difficulty of finding qualified candidates, given that they can make a lot more money working for Urbana or Champaign police.

Heuerman also told Teresa Schleinz, administrative assistant to Walsh, that he'd like her to stay on. Having worked for three sheriffs in her almost 30 years with the county, Schleinz is a virtual powerhouse of institutional knowledge.

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