PAXTON — Two political newcomers — Paxton Police Chief Bob Bane and Dennis Higgins, coordinator of the Ford County Emergency Management Agency — are challenging two-term incumbent Sheriff Mark Doran in the March 18 Republican primary election.
The 47-year-old Doran, of Gibson City, has been Ford County sheriff since 2006. Previously, Doran worked for 13 years as a patrol officer for the Gibson City Police Department and 31/2 years as a correctional officer at the Ford County Jail.
If he is sworn in to a third four-year term on Dec. 1, Doran wants to step up patrols and traffic enforcement.
"The county board was asking me during the last budget meetings whether I wanted a chief deputy or a road officer, and my choice was a road officer, because I thought that was a lot more important as far as a deterrence to crime," Doran said. "I can tell you that, as long as I've been in law enforcement, being seen is the biggest deterrence to crime that I know of. I'd like to have squad cars out there, not only in the towns, but have a bigger presence. And with another road officer, I think we'll be able to at least have two officers on (duty) at least three days a week — not on all the shifts but on a lot of the shifts."
Doran would also like to keep the jail properly staffed and its correctional officers and dispatchers trained.
"We have 17 correctional officers right now. They do also dispatch, as well. It's very hard to find somebody who's good at both," Doran said. "One of the things I have looked at is separating the dispatch from corrections. All it takes is time and money. I've got the time, but right now we don't have the money."
Bane, 54, has lived in Paxton since 1987, when he was hired as a patrol officer for the Paxton Police Department. Bane was later promoted to captain and then hired in 2006 as police chief. He started working as a dispatcher and correctional officer in Marshall County in 1977, then worked as a state prison guard from 1978 to 1981. In 1981, Bane was hired as police chief in Tonica in LaSalle County. In 1983, he became police chief in Lostant, also in LaSalle County. He then worked as police chief in Wenona before being hired in Paxton.
Among Bane's priorities for the sheriff's office is improving dispatching.
"Communications is a big problem in Ford County," Bane said. "There's a lot of problems with the dispatch in Ford County. If any of you own a scanner you'll know what some of the problems are. I think we need to look at possibly changing dispatch ... and get the dispatchers trained a little bit more on what they need to do."
Bane also wants to review the office's budget to make sure money is being spent wisely.
"I think you have to look at your budget to check how your manpower's being used or your money's being used," Bane said.
Bane also wants "an open relationship with the county board."
"Transparency in the government is very important to me, and I think you need to work on communications with all the departments in Ford County," Bane said.
Higgins, 62, a Gibson City resident, has been coordinator of the Ford County Emergency Management Agency since 2009, following a 27-year career in emergency services that saw him work as a dispatcher, patrol officer, police chief, emergency medical technician, security guard and 911 coordinator. Higgins, a Monticello native, first worked as a part-time dispatcher and in jail operations for the Piatt County Sheriff's Department from 1970-74. He then served as a patrol officer from 1974-78 for the Gibson City Police Department before becoming the department's assistant police chief in 1978. He then was promoted to chief of police in 1986 and held the position until 2001.
If elected sheriff, Higgins said, "one of the first priorities is going to be looking at the operations that are presently in the sheriff's department."
"Not having that much knowledge of it at this point, it's going to be something we'll have to review to see where we need to add such things as education or manpower or whatever," Higgins said.
Added Higgins: "There's a lot of areas that we need to work on, such as working with other departments — that's a constant (necessity), and I think that's going on now, but I think that needs to be kept up. We need to have the best we can get on intelligence as to what's going on in the area and around us — not only in our county but the counties around us and in the state. ... We need to work together; we need to form relationships with everybody that's connected."