As Drew Alexander steps down as the Summit County sheriff, he leaves behind an office much improved under his leadership the past 12 years. The former Akron police officer has brought a higher level of professionalism to the department, assembling a more talented team and managing more effectively.
The hope is, his successor, Steve Barry, who served under Alexander, will build on the foundation that has been laid. Alexander has advanced the principle of accountability. That is apparent in the wider use of video, the department documenting its actions. As others in law enforcement have, the sheriff has bet that a well-trained force will benefit from the cameras, the recordings in the main enhancing public confidence.
After first winning election in 2000, Alexander, a Republican, ran unopposed four years later, and again in 2008. Those easy re-election bids did not translate into a smooth road running the office.
In recent years, especially, the challenges have been tough, starting with the squeeze in county budgets. The sheriff has had to shrink the operation, deputies and staff members laid off, programs at the county jail put on the shelf. To their credit, Alexander and his team have been innovative, for instance, in selling more appealing food to inmates, an incentive that has triggered a sharp drop in disciplinary actions.
No episode has proved more troubling to Alexander than the 2006 death of Mark McCullough at the jail. This editorial page directed sharp criticism toward the sheriff. In the end, he moved in the right direction. This past February, he declared that the jail no longer would accept the violent mentally ill, pushing the community to devise a better strategy than the jail as “dumping ground.”
Much work remains for the state and local agencies on that front. So, too, in another area of priority for Alexander, his advocacy for streamlining and consolidating local governments.
The sheriff has pitched for communities to give up their own police departments and allow his office to provide law enforcement. He has real examples of savings (in Green, for instance). He also points to potential economies elsewhere. All of it involves seeking ways to increase the level of performance, limited dollars deployed more efficiently and smartly. Drew Alexander has set a higher standard for leading the office.