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Candidate Forum: CWC sheriff candidates share visions for the future

Crow Wing County sheriff candidates Scott Goddard and Pat Pickar answer questions during a candidate forum Tuesday, Oct. 2 at the Land Services building in Brainerd. Erin Bormett / Echo Journal

The two Crow Wing County sheriff candidates described the visions they each have for the future of the department during a candidate forum Tuesday, Oct. 2, at the Land Services Building in Brainerd.

Candidates Pat Pickar, a deputy in the Crow County Sheriff's Office, and Scott Goddard, captain at the sheriff's office, answered a series of predetermined questions as well as questions posed by the public. The Brainerd Dispatch, League of Women Voters, Rosenmeier Center for State and Local Government and the Brainerd Lakes, Crosslake and Pequot Lakes chambers of commerce sponsored the forum.

In his opening statement, Pickar cited his status as a National Guard veteran and his over 20-year tenure with the sheriff's department, having worked every division.

"The experience I have over my opponent is dedication to service and community," said Pickar.

He said he wouldn't have all the answers, but wanted to use the relationships he had built to collaborate and bring his goals to fruition.

"If elected, you'll not only have a visible sheriff, but have a visible sheriff's office," said Pickar.

Goddard focused his opening remarks on his years as a supervisor..

"The sheriff's office is an important one," said Goddard. "One must have the knowledge, real experience, proven leadership and commitment to our people and our communities."

He said his campaign slogan - "for you, with you" - means the challenges facing the community are larger than any one individual, and it will take partnership to get things done.

Goddard and Pickar agreed that drug use, specifically the meth crisis, was among the greatest challenges facing Crow Wing County. Each candidate had different ideas on how they would tackle the problem.

"Methamphetamine is the No. 1 problem in Crow Wing County still," said Pickar.

He said that according to state law, the current multi-agency drug task force is not recognized by the state because it is not partnered with another county.

"The sheriff's office needs to do a better job of collaborating," said Pickar.

Goddard said tackling the drug problem would take everybody in the room, everyone in the county, and part of that includes better staffing of county offices.

"We need more people in our courts, in our probations, in the county attorney's office and the sheriff's office to truly combat this," he said.

Goddard said the county needs education and programs for people already in the system. He said he would implement more preventative measures.

Issues regarding mental health are also of major concern in the county and were brought up in both moderated and audience-submitted questions.

"This is a topic very close to my heart," said Goddard.

He was shot in the line of duty in 2013 during a confrontation with a man experiencing a mental health episode. The man was killed in the standoff.

"I have never blamed the person who did that," said Goddard. "I absolutely take it to heart as to how mental health affects people."

He said his goal as captain was to educate his staff through de-escalation training and other programs to get a "leg up" on successfully dealing with mental health episodes.

Pickar said that crisis intervention training is important, but there is a tool that has been available in Crow Wing County since April that the sheriff's office has left unused. An app called Vital allows people with mental health or medical conditions to register that information with the department. When emergency services are dispatched, the app alerts law enforcement to that person's specific needs.

Pickar also said he has listened to complaints from parents about the limitations of current mental health services.

"We don't have services readily available to help people as needed," he said. "Services are six to eight weeks out."

Both Goddard and Pickar are in favor of reinstating a K-9 unit in the department, but they had different ideas about how to achieve that goal.

Goddard said that part of his responsibility as captain is managing the budget, and that dollars can only go so far.

"We have to stretch our budget as thin as we can, and make tough decisions," he said.

He said he is hopeful for the return of the K-9 unit, but until then new technologies, such as drones, could assist in searches.

"The technology's camera system and the ability of our pilots is amazing," said Goddard.

Pickar said that while budgets are tight, there are other ways to fund a K-9 unit, including funding through community businesses.

"We need to think outside the box," he said.

Rather than importing a fully trained dog, Pickar said, the department could train a puppy and socialize it in the community from the beginning.

In closing, Goddard said he was proud of the work the sheriff's office has already done.

"I want the community to look to the office as a business responsible for community safety and well-being," he said.

He reiterated that his past leadership roles in the department have prepared him for the role of sheriff, and said he wants to work together as a community to combat issues.

Pickar said he knows he has the qualifications to win, and wants to earn votes on his own merit by running a positive campaign only.

"It's not about building a checklist, but building relationships," said Pickar. "My job as sheriff isn't to build a resume. It's to build a team."

Tuesday, Nov. 6, is the general election. Early voting is available at the Crow Wing County Historic Courthouse in Brainerd until Monday, Nov. 5.