BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MONTROSE – With just 150 days under his belt, at least four accidental deaths, and a homicide, Lee County Sheriff Stacy Weber says the whole county, figuratively and literally, needs to just slow down.
In a conversation following Monday’s regular Lee County Board of Supervisors meeting, Weber talked about what being sheriff has been like since his election in November.
‘I think the one thing that I’m most proud of, and this isn’t meant to be selfish sentiment, but I’m really proud of the morale of this department.”
Weber can usually be seen in a freshly pressed uniform, carrying a cold can of Coke, and always offers a firm handshake, a smile, and a business card emblazoned with his campaign slogan.
“Honest, Respectful Protection”.
Weber said his first day in office set the tone. He was upset at his swearing in because one of his mentors, Buck Jones, didn’t make the swearing in because Weber had given him the wrong location.
“That was a big deal to me. I wanted him there when that happened.”
Weber then said he scheduled a staff meeting and talked about his approach to the public and law enforcement. He said he told them he wanted a reputation of honesty and respect.
“Even if it hurts the case, we’re gonna be honest first and foremost,” he said. “We’re gonna treat everyone with respect whether it’s a traffic stop or a more serious crime.”
But the meeting was cut a little short by a two-car head on collision on Hwy 2. And he was off and running.
“I didn’t even have a coat yet, Weber said. “I didn’t even have a uniform that fit.”
But as the day would go, the coat would be more important. Later in the evening, Weber and other Lee County Sheriff’s deputies were called to the Montrose riverfront where two local fisherman fell into an icy river after their boat capsized. Again, day one.
“I came home that night and never felt more helpless. We couldn’t do more than we wanted because we would have risked other lives on a very dangerous river.”
Both men were recovered later in the spring, both accidental drowning victims.
In the weeks to come, a body would be discovered in Indian Path Park just south of the Des Moines/Lee County Line on Hwy 61, a confirmed homicide. In April, a vehicle was pulled from the Des Moines River south of Keokuk, and two weeks ago a farmer was killed when a vehicle struck the back of his tractor ejecting him from the seat and onto the concrete.
All this within 150 days of taking his position.
As part of his election campaign Weber said he wanted to add a K-9 unit to the department and wanted to get more deputies on the road to pull more criminals off the street.
The jail population is up an average 15-20 offenders per day with as many as 92 this past weekend, a dilemma that has eaten up the entire food account and has required an amendment to the Lee County budget to infuse funds back into the program. Weber said repeatedly at campaign stops and in debates that he was going to focus on the “two percent that don’t want to behave”.
His K-9 unit lands in the country this week and heads to Arkansas for 4-weeks of training before heading to Fort Dodge for 4-more weeks of training with his handler. The county response to the addition of the K-9 unit has been sufficient enough to raise the initial funds needed to get the program up and running.
A new work-release program has offenders paying $10/day to go to work with a bracelet on that tracks their whereabouts. According to Weber, the program is working and the incidents of offenders wandering off the work site has been drastically reduced.
So what’s the future look like.
Weber said one of his main focuses is to get people to slow down on county roadways. Weber got a bit emotional when talking about the loss of life in the county just since his election.
“I want to get that one on one connection with people,” he said. “I want them to know that it’s our job to keep them safe, but we just have to slow down.”
He’s also focusing on building the reserve department and is currently reviewing interviews with the next group of reserve candidates.
“They’ll be out there in one of these uniforms and they’ll be trained to handle issues. I want as many deputies on the street as we can get, and I want to be able to staff our detectives to solve crimes.”
But it’s his people that he focuses on heaviest. Weber said he insists that the entire department be treated, and conduct themselves, with respect. Be it from offenders and fellow staff.
“It’s the image we have with the county that tells me if we’re doing our job. We treat our offenders with respect, but they will respect us, as well. There are few words we don’t allow here in our jail, and if they use them, they know there are consequences.”
But Weber’s the first to say he’s not the sharpest pencil in the box and moves credit for the successes of the department to his staff.
“I’ve surrounded myself with some really intelligent people. Chief Deputy Will Conlee, Craig Burch, and our jail administrator John Canida, are all top notch professionals. I’ve yet to see a situation that they couldn’t handle on their own.”