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Sheriff's candidates square off for Aug. 12 primary


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August 05, 2014 | 04:11 PM
ELKHORN - Kurt Picknell has been Walworth County Undersheriff for 14 years and law enforcement officer for almost twice that long.

He is endorsed by all of the police chiefs in Walworth County, sheriff's from 10 surrounding counties and by Walworth County Sheriff David Graves, who is retiring at the end of this year, and District Attorney Dan Necci.

But that as not deterred Ken Brauer, a fellow deputy, from challenging Picknell for the sheriff's badge in the Aug. 12 Republican primary.


Picknell, 50, is a native of Delavan and has been involved with law enforcement in Walworth County since 1987.

At the start of his career, he worked as a correctional officer at the jail, worked seasonally with the Geneva Lake Law Enforcement Agency and with police departments in the towns of Delavan and East Troy.

In 1991, he was hired as a Walworth County Sheriff's deputy. After spending eight years on patrol, Picknell quickly climbed through the ranks.

In 1999, he was promoted to sergeant, two years later he moved up the ranks to lieutenant and that same year he was named the undersheriff.

He has been the number two in command for 14 years, which is Graves' entire tenure as sheriff.

Picknell speaks highly of his soon-to-be former boss. If elected, Picknell promises a smooth transition. He said not to expect major changes with the department.

"As undersheriff, Sheriff Graves has given me wide discretion in developing the annual budget and other initiatives," Picknell said.

Picknell holds a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and an MBA in public administration. He trained at the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va., a selective program geared toward people in law enforcement management.

Picknell is well-respected by his peers. He has been endorsed by the last two elected Walworth County Sheriffs. He also has been endorsed by Congressman Paul Ryan, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, State Sen. Neal Kedzie, and State Reps. Steve Nass, Amy Laudenbeck and Tyler August.

In an earlier interview, Picknell pointed out that he has experience administering the Walworth County Sheriff's Department.

The department has 83 sworn deputies, and those deputies provide assistance to other departments within and just outside the county on a continuing basis.

In addition to the sworn officers as well. Overall, the sheriff oversees 205 employees, Picknell said.

When a major crime occurs, Picknell believes that it is important for the sheriff and undersheriff to respond to the scene.

"I know that if it reaches a certain level, my phone will ring - any time day or night," Picknell said in an earlier interview. "You live the job, you live the profession, and with that you have to find a healthy balance."

Among the major challenges to local law enforcement is the heroin epidemic that is spreading across the country and that has already reached Walworth County.

"Locally, nationally and in communities like ours, we are recognizing that this is a larger problem than we once anticipated," Picknell said.

He said the drug's popularity has grown as users become addicted to opiate-based prescription medications.

Because prescription medications are priced higher and legally restricted, "the alternative becomes heroin," Picknell said.

Picknell is a supporter of the Drug Court as way to combat drug use.

Under the program, Drug Court participants would receive reduced sentences if they successfully complete the program. Picknell said claims that the program "coddles criminals" are too simplistic.

"Some people are perfect candidates, others are not," he said.

Meanwhile, the Walworth County Drug Unit will continue to target heroin dealers, Picknell said.

Getting control over the illegal heroin use is vital for law enforcement, Picknell said. Heroin users often commit other crimes - embezzlement, identity theft and burglaries - to support their habits.

Picknell also said it is important for people to become aware of the drug's effects and signs of its use.

"It was once thought of as an urban problem," Picknell said. "It is now a suburban and rural problem."


Brauer says it's time for some change at the Walworth County Sheriff's Department, and he's ready to provide it.

"The department is a good place to work, but it can be better. It was about five or six years ago that I started thinking about the changes the department needs," Brauer said in a previous interview.

With Graves retiring, now was a good time to run, he said.

"Right now, there are no leaders, and there is no communication on decision making. It's time to change some things around," Brauer said in an earlier interview.

He accused the current administration with being "removed from how the rest of the job is done."

He said the department administration is now on the side of the county board, instead of representing the department and what the deputies need.

"I wish it wasn't political at all," Brauer said of the sheriff's position. "I'd rather see a cop than a politician in the office."

Brauer said the department would see "a lot of good changes to the department if a cop is back running the department."

Brauer said one of his goals is to increase public communication from the department.

"I think we can better provide a service to the public if we're communicating with them," he said. "We could be using social media. I know there are pitfalls to social media, but it can help. When we have road closures, we could be posting those updates on Twitter and Facebook."

Brauer also wants to connect with the youth in the county.

The department used to have youth programs, but they've been eliminated in recent years, Brauer said.

"We had the Explorers program for community service for young adults," he said."I think we could bring that back along with creating citizen academies. Most people only know what we do from what they read in the paper. They don't really know what it's like. We could create the citizen academies to teach people how the department works."

Brauer said if communication with and from the public increases, the law enforcement part of the sheriff's department job would be easier.

"We need community involvement," he said. "The true definition of our job is to protect and serve. The sheriff was designated for that in the (state) constitution."

He said the increased use of heroin in the county is troublesome, but it's not something law enforcement can handle themselves.

"People start on the prescription drugs ... they go doctor shopping to keep getting more prescriptions. Then they find that heroin is much cheaper. I think we need to get doctors to look at other treatments at the beginning."

Brauer said sometimes jail is the best place for those addicted to the drug. If they need to detox, they can do it in jail, he said.

"Really it's about education," he said. "Way before high school, kids need to know about the danger. Kids are a lot smarter than you'd think."


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