ALFRED, Maine — There's a race for York County sheriff this election season; the confident incumbent with federal law enforcement experience who wants to continue his initiatives, and his opponent whose been endorsed by the patrol union and claims the department needs a change.
William King and Roger Hicks will compete for the votes of York County residents on Nov. 6, for the position that oversees the sheriff's department and a population of more than 200,000. King, the incumbent elected in 2014, is running as a Democrat, while Hicks is a Republican.
At one point, they were co-workers at the sheriff's office.
King, who says he has the taxpayers' best interest at heart, touts his experience with the CIA, DEA, federal inspector general's office, and the last several years with York County as a distinction that sets him apart. Hicks, a career law enforcement officer with more than 25 years of experience at the York County Sheriff’s Office, said he's connected to the community in unique ways and is able to put himself in the shoes of patrol officers.
King, 65, from Saco, was born and raised in Portland, becoming a Portland police officer after graduating from the University of Southern Maine with a degree in criminal justice. He later went to work for the CIA, DEA, and helped start the predecessor agency to Maine's bureau of drug enforcement. He retired after 25 years of federal experience. In 2010, he came to work for York County as a major and then chief deputy. He was elected sheriff in 2014.
"The first thing that I saw at the sheriff’s office was that the policies and decisions needed updating," King said. "There was also not a lot of recognition to the staff, so I established quarterly recognition ceremonies."
King said he implemented a team concept where the same sergeant works routinely with the same group, "so he knows their strengths and weaknesses." He also promoted more county inclusion in state and federal task forces, he said.
"As difficult as it is, I absolutely love my job," he said. "My career prior to working at the sheriff’s office has always been at a level that didn’t let me interact with the people. In the CIA, I had a pseudo name, couldn’t tell people what I did. In the DEA, I didn’t see the devastation down below. We’ve made a lot of changes (at the sheriff's office), changes are uncomfortable to some people, but they’re for efficiency and they’re really for the public. It's really for the taxpaying public."
King said he believes there is now a more professional approach at the sheriff's office, and the requests by towns to increase their contract deputies is "evidence of our increased efficiency and work that they're saying, 'We want more of the same.'"
King said his "formula is working," but he wants to continue seeing initiatives through.
"I have taken people out of their comfort zone," he said. "I only have people’s best interests at heart, and I have their careers at heart. I think we do very, very well, but we can always do better."
King said he believes that's precisely the reason why on Oct. 10, the police services patrol division union endorsed Hicks, his opponent. He has made changes, he said, and there's been some difficult yet healthy discussions as a result.
'I've looked at some controls to try to increase taxpayer value," he said. "I’m the type of person, I’m trying to work for the greater good. I’m not here to please 28 employees, I’m here to please 225,000 citizens. I have the get the most out of the employees. If that means looking at different things, I’m not the type of guy where someone says, ‘Well, we’ve always done it this way.’ I’ve instituted some controls, I’m updating policies."
When asked what challenges the sheriff's office faces, King pointed to staffing at the county jail. It's hard to hire corrections officers, he said. In addition, the sheriff's office's allocated budget provides "limited resources."
King's service as sheriff has not come without its controversies, including several lawsuits. Most recently, a former female inmate sued the county alleging proper training isn't in place at the jail to prevent sexual assaults. King denied that and said the jail follows PREA standards. Earlier this summer, the county settled a lawsuit against two deputies who allegedly illegally arrested and terrorized a Buxton man.
In regards to the latter suit, King said it was the county and its risk management carrier's decision to settle, not his. He called both deputies in question "outstanding," and said he didn't see a reason to continue investigating. The county commissioners decided to send it off to the district attorney, who then gave it to the attorney general's office.
In September, County Commissioner Cynthia Chadwick-Granger, at a public meeting, shared with her fellow commissioners that King allegedly "secretly investigated" her, when he apparently questioned some of her business clients about her. Granger said she was "humiliated and devastated." Her fellow commissioners agreed it was "disturbing."
King denied that there was any investigation, but did comment there is something he seeks to address "after the election." He noted there is a local mechanism to complain about a sheriff, and no one took that avenue.
King said if re-elected, he would put more focus and emphasis on community engagement. He said with certainty he is the most experienced candidate in the race.
King has also won the support of police chiefs in Kennebunk and York, and former York County District Attorney Mark Lawrence.
Hicks, 60, from Hollis, has worked at the York County Sheriff’s Office for more than 25 years. He began serving in the county's corrections division in 1987, before transitioning to the police services division as a patrol deputy, and then a sergeant. He retired in 2012, but remains on the county hazmat team.
Hicks was a school resource officer, certified DARE officer, and also served on the MSAD 6 Budget Committee and York County Budget Committee. He has also been a Hollis selectman, and spent more than 30 years on the Hollis Fire Department.
"As I went through the year watching what is going on at the county in the sheriff’s office, I don't like what I’m seeing," Hicks said. "Severe morale issues and trust issues. I’ve talked to a lot of the men and women there, and they think they need change."
Hicks said he hopes to stop "the rotating door at the jail," citing the high turnover rates of corrections officer, a challenge King also agreed on.
"I believe you’ve got morale issues there," he said. "They're being overworked. Corrections also is probably the most unappreciated side of law enforcement, and I can understand it because I’ve walked in those shoes."
Hicks touted his relationship with the unions and said he understands how they work. Not only was he endorsed by the patrol union, but he also received the nod from the Sanford Regional Communications Association, made up of 911 dispatchers. "That says volumes itself," Hicks said of the endorsements.
Hick said what sets him apart from King is his experience as a both rural patrolman and a corrections officer. "I bring that to the table," he said.
Having oversight of a roughly $3.4 million budget is experience Hicks said would lend well to succeeding as sheriff.
Hicks said he would look to improve relations with the county commissioners. "How is the sheriff supposed to get anything accomplished if he's constantly fighting with the commissioners?" he said. "I believe that I can come to the table and create an extremely better working relationship with them."
Hicks said recently-filed lawsuits against the sheriff's office are an indication the county needs a change.
"Bringing the community back to community policing" is Hicks' motto, he said, citing his honesty and integrity as the reasons voters should pick him.
"You hold police officers to a standard, but I think your sheriff should be on an even higher standard, because you’re leading and showing the way." he said. "I have local experience. I’ve actively been out there and met people and developed all of the relationships in the community. Roger Hicks is going to go in there, support the employees, fight for what they want, participate in the negotiations of contacts, and therefore, participate with the employee."