Madison County Sheriff candidates took the stage last week, introducing themselves and answering questions at a forum sponsored by Rural Madison.
Incumbent candidate Erik Weaver and candidate Brandon Lillard answered questions from host Butch Davies about everything from their vision for the office to immigration and budget issues. Third candidate Lonnie Tuthill was at a mandatory training and unable to attend.
Both Weaver and Lillard are Madison County natives with long law enforcement careers. Weaver was with the Virginia State Police for 16 years before being elected as Madison County Sheriff in 2003. He is finishing his fourth term in office. Lillard was also with the Madison County Sheriff’s Office for seven years, achieving the rank of sergeant in the patrol division. He was then a school resource officer with the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office, became a SWAT member and is finishing his 10th year as a detective.
Both are also family men. Weaver has two daughters with his wife, Terri and Lillard has two sons with his wife, Vicki.
Vision for the office
The two candidates shared their visions for the sheriff’s office. Both stressed the importance of getting insight from community members.
Lillard said he wants to establish a relationship with the community that has never before been seen. He said he wants to hear concerns and questions and be able to give answers. He’d also like to bridge whatever gaps may exist and also hear from deputies as to what their visions for the office are.
Weaver said he’d like to see the three school resource officers be expanded to four. He’d also like to host the youth academy again. The academy is a one-week program that immerses young adults into the law enforcement area. It was first hosted this year. He also noted that the mission of the sheriff’s office is to enhance the quality of life in the county and encouraged citizens to say something if they see something.
Transportation of the mentally ill
Weaver and Lillard both spoke about the transportation of the mentally ill, something that law enforcement has struggled with in the past as it means officers are taken out of the county and sent all over the state, sometimes waiting as long as eight hours for a facility to become available.
Weaver said 50 percent of local law enforcement is trained in crisis intervention through the Rappahannock Rapidan Community Services Board and understands how to relate and assist in a crisis. He said transporting those in need of mental health services has been a challenge for the office since it can be an eight hour process and sends two deputies all over the state. He said the community services board has now started to reimburse the office for those travel related expenses.
Lillard agreed that the transportation issue is a burden on the office, but said it’s necessary. He agreed that the crisis intervention training is good, but said there needs to be a bigger step forward in identifying those with mental health problems. He said this could be done by communicating with the families of the individuals making sure they are getting the care needed and aware of the programs available.
Active shooter preparation
Lillard said he’s passionate about active shooter preparation. He said he helped develop the program used in Fauquier County and said he’d like to bring those plans and ideas back to Madison. He desires to host large scale workshops and exercises with not only law enforcement and the schools, but state and federal agencies. He said he’d like to the exercises to be graded to use the feedback to make improvements.
Weaver said the sheriff’s office has two ALICE, active shooter training, instructors on staff. The program has been implemented in every school, with county employees and at Plow and Hearth and Novum Baptist Church. He said the program includes two to three hours of classroom style training followed by two to three hours of hands-on training.
Candidates were asked if the county has a drug problem and to define it. Both agreed there’s an opiod epidemic.
Weaver said the county has two narcotics trained investigators and left the Blue Ridge Narcotics and Gang Task Force years ago in order to keep the investigators in the county. He said two years ago, the two main heroin dealers in Madison County were arrested and are currently serving time. He said offenders have to be educated and rehabilitated. He said he’s recently developed an agreement with Culpeper Hospital to supply officers with Narcan, a drug that treats overdoses, at no cost to the county.
Lillard disagreed with leaving the task force and said that there’s strength in numbers. He said being a part of a task force is important because it gets more boots on the ground and allows Madison to utilize resources it couldn’t otherwise afford. He said some of the larger cases can’t be solved when the boundary is the county line. He also said addiction has to be treated like a disease and addicts are sick people trying to get well.
Lillard and Weaver both stated that immigration is a federal issue. Lillard said he believes the federal government should take control of the issue and said Madison County is small with resources that are small and immigration issues have to be passed on to other agencies equipped to deal with it.
Weaver said there have been less than five issues dealing with immigration in Madison County since he’s been in office and isn’t a problem in the county currently. He said when encountered, immigration enforcement is contacted.
Weaver said the sheriff’s office has a positive relationship with the board of supervisors and noted he removed a car from this year’s budget due to other budget issues the county is facing. He said the office does as much as it can to buy items from state bid, which is less than what a typical consumer pays. He said grants, including those the office has received for school resource officers, are always being sought out and he tries to keep the budget as low as he can.
Lillard said he understands that the county does as much as it can with what it has and that networking and grants are options to get more funding. He said with relationships in place with other agencies, one phone call can yield an army of assistance. He said the office has to reach out and ask for help and other agencies want to provide assistance.
In closing, Weaver said being sheriff has been an honor and a privilege. He said he hopes to continue working with school safety issues, checking in on seniors and keeping the youth involved. He said he plans to have the office continue to be a community involved group participating in things like Trick or Trunk, Hidden in Plain Sight and the junior law enforcement academy. He said he maintains an open door policy and said being sheriff is a 24/7 job.
“This is my home,” he said. “It gets in your heart. It’s what we do. It isn’t about the money.”
Lillard said one of the highlights of his life is to be in this year’s election and meet and interact with people. He said he believes it’s healthy to open one’s mind to a new vision, new energy and new ideas and to bridge gaps between young people and law enforcement. He said being sheriff is a hard, stressful job which takes a lot of energy and commitment which is part of the reason leadership should be cycled out. He said he brings new ideas and new goals.
“Nothing would be a blessing more than to come home and serve home,” he said.