Responsible for maintaining safety in Henrico County’s jails and its courthouse, whoever becomes the county’s next sheriff will contend with an overcrowded jail and staffing issues.

After nearly 20 years at the helm, Henrico Sheriff Mike Wade last fall announced his plans to retire. Running to succeed him are Undersheriff Alisa Gregory, Henrico Police Detective Bob Matson and Tom Wadkins, a former undersheriff in the Richmond City Jail.

Though Gregory initially signaled that she intended to run as a Republican, she became the Democratic nominee after going back on a GOP loyalty pledge she signed earlier this year. She said she ultimately decided to run with the party that more aligns with her personal views. Wade said he has been coaching her to succeed him and encouraged her to run as a Republican.

In the latter half of his current term, Wade has advocated for Henrico to build a new jail to accommodate an influx of inmates.

The candidates to replace him have shown an interest in strengthening the county’s drug addiction rehabilitation programs the jail system operates and working with other county agencies and officials to develop strategies for jail diversion strategies and to boost deputy recruitment and retention.

Bob Matson Republican

Profession: Henrico police detective / U.S. Army, captain, Military Police and Civil Affairs branches, Operation Iraqi Freedom 2005-2007

Education: B.A., modern languages, Virginia Military Institute; Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership, CTP 2018

Question: Why are you running for office?

Answer: My entire adult life has been dedicated to public service, in the military, law enforcement and serving as a volunteer EMT and firefighter. I have always believed that we should all serve our communities in the way we are best able. The sheriff plays an important role in the community, and my training and experience makes me uniquely qualified to serve in this office. A sheriff controls more than just the jail; they must manage large lodging, food service, maintenance, medical, personnel and security operations, protect the staff and the public in our courthouses, serve civil process, and enforce the laws of the commonwealth. As a former Army officer and Iraq veteran, I have executive leadership experience leading personnel with diverse skill sets in challenging environments. As a police detective with 23 years of experience, including time as a state and federal task force officer, I have worked with every facet of the law enforcement and public safety system. I am the only candidate who is a Virginia certified law enforcement officer, and the best qualified for this office.

Question: What issues appear to be the most important to constituents in your district?

Answer: By far the single biggest public safety issue in Henrico County is the opioid crisis. It wreaks havoc on families and communities, is the root cause of the majority of our property crimes, and is killing our young people at an alarming rate. More of our neighbors are dying from opiate overdoses than from automobile crashes and gun violence. While drug treatment may not be the traditional “tough on crime” approach, I see it as being “smart on crime,” because in addressing this, we can prevent countless crimes that would otherwise be committed to support the addictions.

Within the sheriff’s office, the biggest issue is acute understaffing, creating an environment that is unsafe for the deputies, inmates, and the community, and drives up overtime costs. Turnover is excessively high, further driving up costs of training new deputies and meaning more deputies have less experience. The current staff shortage drives overtime expenses several million dollars over budget, so solving this issue will be fiscally responsible as well.

Question: If elected, how are you planning to address those concerns or ideas?

Answer: I plan on providing quicker access to treatment programs for those brought to jail, starting with having them “triaged” at the time of arrest to determine the best, most effective treatment course of action.

I will take substance recovery efforts a step further than now, and work with a variety of resources, including, but not limited to the current RISE and ORBIT programs. I will expand cooperation with other government agencies, such as Community Corrections, Henrico Mental Health, the commonwealth attorney’s office, and our judges, as well as partnering with community resources in public-private partnerships. I will explore medically assisted treatment options such as naltrexone, and ensure that all deputies are trained in, and have access to, Narcan.

To address the staffing issues, I will form a recruitment and retention committee of deputies, first-line supervisors, staff officers and civilian employees to determine why staff are leaving and advise on ways to improve employee morale. I will increase training standards for new deputies, professionalizing the agency, while seeking to attract a diverse group of the best qualified candidates from throughout our community and elsewhere. I will advocate for the pay of deputies to be brought into line with agencies of similar size and responsibility, making our deputies, like Henrico Fire and Henrico Police, the best compensated in the metro region.

Alisa A. Gregory Democrat

Profession: Henrico undersheriff

Education: bachelor’s degree in human resources management with a minor in leadership and master’s degree in disaster science, University of Richmond

Question: Why are you running for office?

Answer: I have the honor and privilege of being a public servant in law enforcement with the Henrico County Sheriff’s Office for the past 20 plus years. During my career I have acquired the education, training and experience that allowed me to be promoted to every supervisory position within the sheriff’s office from sergeant to my current position as undersheriff. I have met the demands and challenges of protecting the citizens in our community and demonstrated fiscal responsibility by managing the office’s budget to humanely meet the physical and medical needs of the men and women incarcerated in both of Henrico County’s jails. In addition, I have collaborated with the county leadership to address and foster solutions to the opioid and mental health crises that devastate far too many families in our community.

My caring and compassion led me to choose a career as a deputy sheriff. My education and experience has given me the ability to become the first female chief deputy and undersheriff in the history of the sheriff’s office and prepared me for the office of sheriff of Henrico County.

Question: What issues appear to be the most important to constituents in your district?

Answer: Jail overcrowding as a result of the number of inmates struggling with mental illness and substance abuse and staffing shortages. Safe and unique approaches and strategies must be utilized to reverse the trends of persons who experience longer incarcerations than other inmates because of their active addiction or serious mental illness. These types of incarcerations require evaluation of behaviors or time to restore mental competency, which leads to more days in jail.

Recruitment, retention efforts and training are avenues of opportunity to combat staffing shortages. Public safety agencies across the county are struggling with staffing shortages and due to the competing agencies and our inability to sometimes compete with the salaries found in the private sector, we must come up with creative strategies and partnerships to combat this issue.

Question: If elected, how are you planning to address those concerns or ideas?

Answer: I will continue to address jail overcrowding through partnerships with the commonwealth attorney’s office, the Board of Supervisors , our judges, community stakeholders and any other entity that can aid in creating long-term sustainable change for the jail population. We will focus on alternatives for nonviolent offenders and work with the judges to expand the number of offenders who may benefit from home electronic monitoring, drug court, work release, and recovery options in the community to continue in the efforts to bring about definitive change.

I will continue to strengthen the Henrico County Sheriff’s Office partnerships with the faith-based community and volunteers to address issues faced by the men and women who are incarcerated. To ensure continued success, I will establish a faith advisory commission to aid in offender re-entry and to help strengthen and expand our current programs such as RISE (Recovery in a Secure Environment) and ORBIT (Opiate Recovery by Intensive Tracking).

To meet the staffing challenges facing law enforcement today, I will continue to find innovative solutions to enhance recruitment and retention within the Henrico County Sheriff’s Office. In a collaborative partnership with Henrico Police Department, the Henrico Fire Department and human resources, I will continue to utilize interagency cooperation to expand our applicant pool, enhance our social media presence and develop strategies to enhance career development opportunities for staff.

J.T. “Tom” Wadkins III independent

Profession: vice president — director of operations and IT development, Vive Life Center

Education: B.S. in business management, Virginia Commonwealth University

Question: Why are you running for office?

Answer: My 10 years of actual hands-on experience administering all aspects (finance, computer systems, kitchen, medical and firearms training) of a large Virginia jail under three sheriffs, rising to rank of undersheriff plus 40 years of experience in the private sectors of distribution, information technology and medical operations make me uniquely qualified for the position of Henrico County sheriff.

I served as a computerization consultant with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, developing processes that would allow various agencies to communicate effectively with each other and streamline their data sharing and cooperation. I will bring this extensive interagency experience to the agencies working with the Henrico County Sheriff’s Office. While I have extensive experience in a sheriff’s office, a lot of my experience has been in the private sector giving me broad exposure to and use of different ways of accomplishing many goals in cost-effective ways.

Question: What issues appear to be the most important to constituents in your district?

Answer: Jail overcrowding; high deputy turnover; pay inequity; high deputy vacancy rate; deficiencies in training and equipment; budget overruns

Question: If elected, how are you planning to address those concerns or ideas?

Answer: Jail overcrowding — I will work to remove as many state responsible inmates from Henrico jails as possible, thereby helping to reduce overcrowding and stressful working conditions. Overcrowding affects so many aspects of the sheriff’s office; tensions among inmates, stress for the employees, overtime dollars expended needlessly by the county and the high employee turnover rate. During my tenure with the Richmond City Sheriff’s Office, we experienced an average daily inmate population of 1,500. This was considerably more than the design or rated capacity of the Richmond jail. It is a problem that can be managed with the correct experience.

High turnover, pay inequity and high vacancy rate — I will work with county officials to increase deputy pay as I did with the Richmond city administration to increase the salary supplement for all deputy sheriff’s in Richmond. While reducing the pay inequity will help with the high turnover and vacancy rate it is not the total solution. Solving the jail overcrowding will also help along with treating all employees as valuable members of the team. Being a hands-on administrator enables me to relate to the employees and have empathy with their problems and concerns.

I will improve training for and equipment used by deputies so they are able to handle the new threats our society faces. Our deputies providing security for the circuit courts, general district courts and juvenile and domestic relations courts are the first line of defense for an attack similar to the one at the municipal building in Virginia Beach. Training to handle this type of emergency needs to be developed and implemented. Also, I want to facilitate having Narcan available, with proper training on its use, for all deputies (jail, courts and civil process).

Other goals I have when elected:

1. Establish a citizens advisory panel made up of a cross section of citizens to benefit from their advice and experience so the citizens will have a voice in the operation of the sheriff’s office.

2. Start the Eddie Eagle Gunsafe Program to teach children what to do if they ever come across a firearm.

3. Continue the intern program with VCU and VUU that allows students to attend the Henrico Sheriff’s Office Academy during the summer and receive college credits. After completing the academy, students are sworn in as deputies and able to work in the jail, filling shifts that otherwise would require overtime.

4. Continue Project Lifesaver, which is a rapid response program that aids victims and families who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and autism.

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