When four former, well-qualified members of the Sheriff’s Department’s are willing to challenge an incumbent sheriff who has held the job for 12 years, it reinforces a widely perceived sense of discontent with the way the department is being run. Sheriff John Cupp, of course, rejects that assessment. He contends that his challengers just expected him to retire this year, and jumped into the race before he declared his intention to seek re-election. That may be true; Sheriff Cupp is 75. But there are a number of problems in the department that cannot be so easily dismissed. It does seem well past time for a change in leadership.
Sheriff Cupp, to be sure, is perceived to be honest and to have integrity, but that should be a given when it comes to the election of county government’s top law enforcement officer. Equally important, the sheriff also should be seen as a strong leader who runs an efficient, well-organized department and who promptly handles problems as they arise. Sheriff Cupp falls well short on those important counts.
The jail’s operation is his biggest unaddressed problem. The jail has been decertified by the state for persistent overcrowding, and Sheriff Cupp has watched rather quietly as that problem has mounted, rather than aggressively seeking a solution. The jail is certified for 489 inmates, but it routinely has well above 500 inmates, and often above 600. What’s more, booking times are slow, wasting officers’ time. Contraband gets smuggled in. There have been outbreaks of infection and violence. And there’s no solution in sight.
Sheriff Cupp also has cut school resource officers out of his budget, rather than seeking additional funding or federal grants to continue their vital function. He’s cut the DARE program, a popular program to educate students about drug and alcohol abuse. He’s let the command structure collapse to the point that he has to spend most of his time putting out daily fires, when he might more productively focus on policy, funding and organizational, legislative and jail issues.
No wonder his opponents, all veterans of the department, cite employee morale and leadership problems along with concerns about the department’s operation. Among the latter, they say the patrol division is understaffed, that audit and assignment issues are neglected and that management and oversight of various departments and special projects are inadequate.
Sheriff Cupp generally dismisses such charges as either overblown or the result of county budget restraints beyond his control. But given the facts on the ground and the uniform criticism, his defense rings hollow. There appear to be reasonable alternative courses of action. Certainly his opponents offer ideas, plans and energy that beg the consideration of voters.
In these circumstances, this page recommends the nomination Andy Derryberry in the May 2 Republican primary over Sheriff Cupp, and the nomination of Billy Long in the Democratic primary over Hank DeArman. The fourth candidate challenging Sheriff Cupp is Dave Alverson, who is running as an Independent and will be on the ballot in the August general election.
For Andy Derryberry
Mr. Derryberry, 47, is uniquely qualified for the sheriff ’s position both through his service as the department’s former chief deputy in 2002-04, by virtue of his broad professional law enforcement experience prior to his tenure as chief deputy, and his enrollment in a slew of special law enforcement courses. Mr. Derryberry served four years as a special agent with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and 12 years as a senior special agent with the Office of the Inspector General for TVA. He also has a business background and degree, and a bachelor’s degree in criminal Justice from MTSU.
Mr. Derryberry left the Sheriff ’s Department, he says, after Sheriff Cupp refused to act on reports by employees that Sheriff Cupp was charging unearned overtime for them and others, including the sheriff, to a federal grant covering the costs of the methamphetamine task force. After he discussed the issue with Sandy Mattice, then this district’s U.S. attorney, he says, Sheriff Cupp accepted his resignation.
If elected, he proposes to aggressively address the jail overcrowding problem, first through operational options for alternative sentencing, probation and faster processing, and secondly by laying out the long-term facility options. The latter, he rightly says, will require better communication with other elected officials and sound management and cost studies.
As for operational issues, he proposes to create a lean but efficient management structure to provide effective command leadership of the patrol, detective, narcotics, intelligence and jail divisions and other groups in the 400-employee Sheriff’s Department. He also promises to install effective audit controls; to re-engage the department with the community and beef up patrols; to energize the narcotics division and broaden its focus beyond meth; to establish more cooperative relations with adjacent police agencies; to seek professional (CALEA) certification of the Sheriff’s Department; and to establish an open-door policy for employees and the public.
In short, Mr. Derryberry, an energetic, well-educated and capable professional, pledges to do much of what Sheriff Cupp has neglected to do. We strongly recommend his nomination in the Republican primary.
For Billy Long
Mr. Long, like Mr. Derryberry, is also a youthful, energetic candidate with long experience in law enforcement. Indeed, Mr. Long, who retired last August, spent virtually all of his 31 years in the Sheriff’s Department in the patrol division. He has worked in virtually every corner of the county and every job in the patrol division, climbing to the rank of lieutenant by the time he retired.
His resume includes an associate degree in criminal justice from Cleveland State Community College, a raft of special training seminars, and stints in the Army in the 82nd Airborne Division and a tour in Desert Storm with the Tennessee National Guard. He was a sergeant in both military units.
Mr. Long retired from the Sheriff ’s Department, he says, because he also had concerns about "double standards" and mismanagement. He cites a lack of attention to the patrol division, poor employee morale, jail management and overcrowding, frayed relations with the public, and inadequate cooperation with neighboring police departments, among other issues that he pledges to correct.
He faults Sheriff Cupp for letting grant money and the special programs that money funded expire. He cites the loss of the domestic abuse, DUI and juvenile abuse task forces, and the failure to find funding to continue the school resource officers and the DARE program in county schools. He promises to recapture grant funds and to restart these programs.
Mr. Long is especially concerned about inattention to the patrol division, now down to around 70 officers. He says that vacancies have not been filled, and promises to boost the patrol division to 100 officers. He contends a force of that size is needed to ensure neighborhood protection and crime prevention in the unincorporated but rapidly urbanizing parts of the county.
He also wants to reinvigorate special training among the department’s officers, improve equipment and develop a program to educate citizens about how the department functions and how civic participation can enhance police operations.
Mr. Long is being challenged for the Democratic nomination by Hank DeArman, also a veteran Sheriff’s Department employee. We strongly urge the nomination of Mr. Long in the Democratic primary.