The three Republican candidates for Payne County Sheriff took part in a Zoom meeting candidate forum last week hosted by the Stillwater Frontier Rotary Club.
Sheriff Kevin Woodward, a former undersheriff who was appointed to complete the remainder of former Sheriff R.B. Hauf’s term, is seeking a full-term in office.
He is being challenged by Garry McKinnis, a former Payne County undersheriff, and Payne County Deputy Joe Harper.
Woodward said he has tried to make technology upgrades as well as increased training services to the sheriff’s office.
“In a short time, we have done so much at the sheriff’s department since I have been appointed,” he said.
McKinnis said he is running for office because he believes the sheriff’s department can be managed better. He said there is a lack of communication between the sheriff’s office and the public.
“The sheriff needs to be out in the public,” he said.
Harper said he wants to see more training for deputies, as well as better management of deputies in the field.
He added that he would like to see more diversity in the sheriff's department, and better mental health training for deputies.
“Training is the biggest part of all this,” Harper said. “We need to take an active role with outside agencies within and outside the county.”
McKinnis said laws need to be changed on how law enforcement handles mental health cases.
“Our lawmakers need to be making changes to the law for mental health,” McKinnis said. “We have handled mental health improperly for years. If we pick someone up for mental health, we handcuff them, and put them in the back of a unit and transport them like they were common criminals. To me this is not the proper way to handle someone with mental health problems.”
Woodward said when the state closed down mental health facilities, it created an array of societal issues.
“When this happens, they call us to come handle the situation and most of them time it is a misdemeanor crime that puts them in our facility,” he said. “Because of that, we (sheriff’s offices across the nation) have become a mental health facility.”
Woodward said the Payne County Sheriff’s office has a psychologist on staff that comes in to help them when needed for mental health issues.
All three candidates said more training is needed on how to handle issues with diversity.
“I think a lot of that reflects back on your training,” McKinnis said. “It is muscle memory. You have to have training. I think by having better training more often we can accomplish that (peaceful solution).”
Woodward said the sheriff’s department in conjunction with the Stillwater Police Department, and Oklahoma State University Police Department, are putting on a diversity education program for all three departments.
“We are going to put on a diversity class for all officers at OSU, Payne County Sheriff’s Department and Stillwater PD,” he said.
All three candidates touted their experiences in law enforcement.
Harper said while he doesn’t have administrative experience, he does have leadership and training experience working as a deputy as well as working in management of one of the largest horse ranches in North America. He also has a variety of resources he can call upon for guidance.
“I have experience as a leader and trainer as a deputy,” he said. “I have resources that I can call on if I need them.”
Early voting will occur from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, June 25 and Friday, June 26, and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 27.
Polls open on June 30 at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.
If none of the candidates captures at least 50.1 percent of the vote, the top two finishers will advance to a run-off election on Aug. 25 to determine the winner.