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Two men battle at the ballot box for Johnson County Sheriff

Winner of June 2 primary will likely be the next sheriff

JOHNSON COUNTY– Two men will be on the June 2 Democrat primary election ballot for the position of Johnson County’s Sheriff. And, with nobody on the Republican ticket, the winner will most likely become the successor to retiring Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek.
Pulkrabek, a Democrat, announced his retirement last year along with his intention to challenge Republican Bobby Kaufmann for Iowa House District 73, which includes Solon, the easternmost part of Johnson County, and all of Cedar County.
Brad Kunkel and Al Fear are the two seeking his job with Kunkel the current Public Information Officer for the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office (JCSO) while Fear is a sergeant assigned to the patrol division of the Cedar Rapids Police Department.
Sgt. Kunkel is a native of West Branch and a 21-year resident of Johnson County. Kunkel and his wife Julie live in rural Solon with their three sons. “I’ve been a full-time deputy sheriff with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office since 2001 and I was a reserve deputy prior to full time employment,” Kunkel said. “During my early years at the sheriff’s office I worked in the jail and on patrol. In 2013, I was promoted to sergeant where I served as a shift supervisor and also as the liaison to the Sheriff’s Office Reserve Unit, which has a roster of 20-30 reserve deputies. In 2017, I was promoted to detective and in 2019 I was named the Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer.”
Sgt. Kunkel has had additional training in financial and money laundering investigations, sex crimes, interview and interrogation, law enforcement intelligence, crime scene investigations, animal abuse, incident command, human trafficking and Crisis Intervention Training (CIT). He is also a member of Johnson County Domestic Assault Investigator Team, Johnson County Child Death Review Team, Johnson County Human Trafficking Coalition, Johnson County Older Adult Death Review Team, Johnson County Suicide Prevention Coalition, Iowa Sex Crimes Investigators’ Association and Iowa Farm Animal Care. He holds an Associate’s Degree from Kirkwood in Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement, and attended the University of Iowa where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in religious studies.

Sgt. Fear is a longtime resident of Johnson County, currently living Swisher with his wife of 25 years, Kathy Fear. The couple has two children, Megan, 18, and Tyler, 16. “I am in my 25th year of law enforcement. I have degrees in Criminal Justice and Organizational Leadership,” Fear said. “I also have advanced leadership training, graduating from the School of Police Staff and Command from Northwestern University Class 464.”
Fear’s law enforcement career began as a reserve police officer in Cedar Rapids in 1993. “I made a whopping $1 per year,” he said. “I worked for the Coralville Police Department in the late ‘90s prior to joining the Cedar Rapids Police Department in 1999. Over my career I have had the opportunity to gain leadership experience in many areas of law enforcement: the patrol division, narcotics investigations, bike patrol, honor guard, special response team, narcotics K9 handler, statewide reaction team to terrorist threat, defensive tactics instructor, field training officer, SWAT instructor, regional police academy instructor, emergency medical technician, hazardous materials specialist, director of the Eastern Iowa Heroin Initiative, criminal interdiction instructor, coordinator for the Governor's Traffic Safety Grant and being a union steward for over 15 years.”
Sgt. Fear has received specialized training in such areas as criminal interdiction, human trafficking, opioid epidemic, community outreach, grant writing, leadership and problem solving, budgeting, communication, officer wellness, program and policy development and implementation, public speaking, investigative procedures and operational effectiveness. “I am currently a member of the Johnson County Human Trafficking Coalition, founder and current board member for C.R.U.S.H. of Iowa (Community Resources United to Stop Heroin). I was a program developer for the Eastern Iowa Heroin Initiative, program implementer for statewide prescription pill drop boxes in every county, and am a current member of the Johnson County Prevention Partnership.”
A list of questions was sent to both candidates and their answers appear as received.

The sheriff is the highest law enforcement officer in the county. What exactly does that mean to you as potentially the next sheriff for Johnson County?
Sgt. Kunkel - The sheriff serves a couple of important roles in county government. First, as a department head, the sheriff is responsible for nearly 100 employees and a large portion of the county budget. This means that the sheriff must be an effective and ethical law enforcement leader as well as a good steward of tax dollars. In addition, the sheriff is an elected official, which means it’s important to foster relationships and trust with other local elected officials, police chiefs and leaders to support the mission of law enforcement and build trust within the community.
The sheriff is also the leader of a large law enforcement agency who needs to ensure the deputies and staff have the trust, support, equipment and training to do their jobs, serve and protect the public and have a good working relationship with local law enforcement, fire, and EMS.
Sgt. Fear - The position of sheriff of Johnson County means several things to me. First, the position is one of leadership for all of Johnson County. As sheriff, I will create a proactive and progressive agency that will be the standard for excellence in the state of Iowa.
Being sheriff will provide a larger platform to continue my work helping as many people as possible. I plan to lead the way with innovative ideas to reduce recidivism in the jail systems through increasing the current jail alternatives program, education and job training for inmates through partnerships with Kirkwood Community College and the University of Iowa. I will support grant opportunities to:
• hire a full-time liaison for mental health cases in the county to work hand in hand with the deputies.
• I will create a criminal interdiction team to focus on the trafficking of humans, weapons and narcotics in Johnson County. Human trafficking is happening every day, right here, in Johnson County.
• I will also implement criminal data analysis to assist the agency in being more efficient patrolling by understanding criminal trends and targeting hot spot policing concepts.
• I would like the sheriff’s office to be the hub of all the training that happens in the county. I want to host training sessions for other area law enforcement so we are all on the same page. I would also like to host training for community members to include active threat response, defensive tactics, domestic violence cases, single parent training and citizenship classes.
To me, the sheriff position will provide the opportunity to create long lasting relationships with the members of the community. My vision is to lead with accountability, transparency and trust. Collaboration with local agencies, businesses and community members is the key to establishing a foundation for problem solving and putting the community back into community policing.
As sheriff, I will lead and fight for all of Johnson County.

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the sheriff's office currently? And, as sheriff, how would you attempt to address this?
Sgt. Kunkel - Six months ago, I would have said the aging jail and increasing jail population were my biggest concerns, however that has changed due to the pandemic.
Going forward the biggest, most immediate challenge we will face is working in the post COVID-19 world and dealing with the budget impacts on local government. I’m concerned that state, county and city budgets will suffer because of the economic downturn and elected officials will have to work through the budget shortfalls for the foreseeable future. This could impact hiring, training and equipment. As sheriff I will ensure that our office is responsible and operates efficiently without compromising public safety and the security of the jail.
One of the other impacts of COVID-19 has been the drop in reported crimes, particularly sex crimes and domestic violence. As we eventually move back toward a normal way of life, I think law enforcement will see an influx of delayed reports.
Recruitment and diversity are also issues law enforcement continues to struggle with. I think we can work on both of these by building better connections between law enforcement and our schools. By intersecting with kids and teens in a positive manner through the school setting we have an opportunity for kids to see law enforcement as a career path and work to build a larger, more diverse applicant pool.
Sgt. Fear - I believe there are many challenges facing the sheriff’s office currently. First and foremost, the jail is a big problem. The population of Johnson County has grown considerably over the last 40 years since the jail was originally built. With the boom in population, the jail is simply unable to keep up with the demand. Johnson County is a great place to live and shows no signs of slowing down. We need to adjust to the current times and also plan for the future, for the safety of the deputies and the inmates residing in the jail.
A second issue facing the sheriff’s office is coverage of the county. Many nights there may be only three deputies on the road covering the entire county. Oftentimes the deputies rely on help from local agencies to assist with accidents, calls for service and backup for serious incidents.
To solve these issues, there are several options. First, is to hire more deputies. The current staff is doing the work of two-three deputies, working countless overtime creating burnout, fatigue and stress. Johnson County is responsible for housing the inmates who are arrested by local agencies being Coralville, Iowa City and North Liberty police and outside agencies who arrest people with Johnson County warrants. The current staff of the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office is stretched thin, and I believe I could provide great change to improve the daily duties of our deputies.
I would research the possibility of hiring civilian jailers for the jail to alleviate some of the deputies’ responsibilities to increase safety for the staff members and efficiency in the booking and care of inmates at the jail. Civilian jailers could be hired at a percentage of the salary of a full-time deputy and work part time during the busiest times of the week.
I would modify the current staffing levels of the jail staff to incorporate a more efficient and safe booking process for the jail. The current jail staff is overworked and underpaid for the jobs they do.
Currently, due to being understaffed at the sheriff’s office, officers from other agencies arriving with inmates are forced to wait outside in
their squad cars for over an hour before being allowed entry into the jail. This problem is inefficient for the jail staff, the officers and the inmates.

Sheriff Pulkrabek has been an outspoken critic of "Shall Issue." What is your view of this policy? What are your views on 2nd Amendment issues in general?
Sgt. Kunkel - I support law-abiding citizens who obtain a concealed weapons permit and lawfully carry. I’m also an avid hunter and enjoy hunting with my family. I think we have to do better at educating the public on the responsibility involved when carrying a concealed weapon because I’ve seen too many instances where people forget their gun in a public place or leave it in an unlocked vehicle. Carrying a weapon is a full-time job and we need to work harder at educating people about their duty to be a responsible and safe gun owner.
Sgt. Fear - I understand and respect the “Shall Issue” policy. I support the 2nd Amendment without question. I have interacted with firearms during my entire law enforcement career. However, there are people who violate laws and create negative press for the law-abiding gun owners, blaming the gun rather than the person for the crime. The Shall Issue order is an issue that I have no control over. With that being said, I would like the sheriff’s office to offer voluntary, extended training sessions for these new gun owners for safety, weapon retention and case law updates making sure that everyone has a solid grasp on what is legal and what is illegal. The optional training would also showcase safe suggestions for carrying and securing the weapon in the home.

Overcrowding has been an issue in the past, with multiple failed bond issues to replace or expand the current jail. Also, efforts at "jail diversion" have seemed to alleviate the overcrowding. What as sheriff, would be your strategy going forward regarding jail diversion, inmate census, sending prisoners out of the county, or hosting other counties' inmates?
Sgt. Kunkel - Our Jail Alternatives program has been in place for close to 15 years and has done a great job at connecting people with services in an effort to reduce the jail population and drive down recidivism. We need to continue these efforts and as sheriff I will ensure that these are supported going forward. One challenge we continue to face is the growing number of offenders in jail for violent offenses like robbery, sexual assault and domestic violence.
As long as we have a jail that can’t meet the space needs of our daily census, we will have to continue housing inmates out of county and we are not in a position to house inmates from other counties. Our jail is nearly 40 years old– it was not built to serve the needs of 2020 and beyond.
Sgt. Fear - The current jail is a significant subject that is in dire need of reevaluation. I believe there were many issues with the past attempts to pass the bond vote. I will be approaching this problem with several different solutions. First of all, we need to make a distinct difference between what we NEED and what we WANT.
Option one would be to take out all non-essential staff at the jail such as the administration, investigation, civil division and records. By removing these entities and placing them into a separate county building off site, this would free up a considerable amount of space in the jail to transition into holding cells and areas for the jail alternatives program to work. We need more space to house inmates.
Option two is to build a simple, cinder block building on county property that the county already owns. We will only ask for what we need. The current jail is inefficient and is causing more harm than good. We are spending close to $500,000 each year to house inmates in other county jails. That money should stay in Johnson County. I believe the past proposals and jail plans were too extravagant and expensive.
Since the current jail was built, there have been several events that have forever changed the landscape of law enforcement for our county. The additional seating and occupancy of Kinnick Stadium, the creation of Coral Ridge Mall, the population boom in the county, Coralville and North Liberty as well as development of the North Liberty Police Department have all increased the number of people in the county and increased the number of people being arrested violating laws and committing crimes. Looking forward, Tiffin is experiencing a large population growth and will eventually be looking at their own police department as well. These gradual shifts in our county have led to the problems within the jailing system we are dealing with today.
We need to find a collaborative solution to this issue. I will work with community members who have had concerns in the past to show them that this is a need and not a “want.” The current situation is dangerous for the staff of the sheriff’s office and also dangerous for the inmates in the jail. I would love nothing more than to have an empty jail, however, we live in a world where there will always be those that prey on the weak and violate our laws, committing crimes against our community.
As previously mentioned, I will also increase the staff for the jail alternatives program. The current staff members are doing fantastic work. We need to create the space needed to work efficiently and help more inmates from becoming repeat offenders.
I would like the jail to be known as the Johnson County Jail and Recovery Center. Most people who commit crimes are victims of circumstance. As an example, people who are arrested for domestic violence often have anger management issues. People who are arrested for theft can be due to lack of job prospects or ability. Drunk drivers can be linked to depression and anxiety issues. I believe that everyone deserves a second chance and not to be labeled as a criminal. We all make mistakes. Along with the alternatives program, I would like to establish a program in the jail for inmates serving time to start working on their high school diplomas, job training, personal finance, resume building, anger management. I want to be able to give everyone a chance to succeed. I know that everyone will not participate, but if we are able to change the life of one inmate, we win.
Once the inmate is discharged, I do not want them to come back. That is where the jail alternatives program takes over and carries the torch to successful, self-sufficient living. I am a huge fan of the jail alternative program and will do everything possible to enhance the effectiveness.

Do you feel the sheriff's office has enough staff? Would you seek additional road deputies? More investigators?
Sgt. Kunkel - One of my goals is to work with local law enforcement agencies and form a cybercrime task force, this will require adding an additional investigator to our staff. We’re adding one more deputy to patrol next year and I will continue to add staff where they are needed in the office as the budget allows.
I’d also like to explore the use of electronic monitoring for pretrial domestic violence offenders in an effort to continue lowering the jail population while helping offenders stay employed or connected to services. Electronic monitoring would also provide a measure of accountability while promoting victim safety. Implementation of a program like this would likely require additional staff as well and is part of a long-term vision for the sheriff’s office.
Sgt. Fear - The staffing numbers at the sheriff’s office are not adequate. As mentioned earlier, many nights there may only be three deputies on the road covering the entire county. It would only take one significant call for service to tie up every available deputy. The jail staff is running on a skeleton crew as well creating burn out, stress and anxiety in the staff. I would seek to add deputies to the sheriff’s office. I would research the population growth of the county, budgetary constraints, and make an educated decision on how many deputies we would need in order to serve the county in the most safe and efficient way possible. Once again, the issue of staffing is not a want, it is a need.

The supervisors and sheriff have expressed a lack of desire to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) regarding cases of people living in the country illegally. What is your view on working with ICE or other agencies when it comes to those living in the country without permission?
Sgt. Kunkel - The migrant community is part of our community and it is important we work to build trust with immigrants. If the migrant community isn’t willing to report crime to law enforcement and it leads to further victimization, we are doing something wrong. We are here to protect victims and survivors.
We currently provide jail inmate information to immigration as part of the Federal Safe Communities Act and we have an excellent working relationship with our federal law enforcement partners including Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Local law enforcement is charged with enforcing state law and local ordinances; we do not have legal authority to enforce immigration law. We would assist immigration officials in a support role such as traffic control or if an officer safety emergency arose.
Sgt. Fear - If I am sheriff, my agency will not go out and actively look for potential immigration violations. If ICE has a request for an inmate already in our custody for a crime committed, then we will oblige that request. I would like to add that I would sponsor citizenship classes at the sheriff’s office to encourage anyone labeled as immigrating illegally to become a citizen of the United States. We must work together to create solutions and not more problems.

Any other policy issues of importance to you? And what would you propose to do about them?
Sgt. Kunkel - We have to do more throughout the justice system to protect and support victims and survivors of domestic violence. Nationally one in four women have experienced domestic violence and half of all female homicide victims die at the hands of an intimate partner. Domestic violence is not only a criminal justice issue; it's also a public health issue. As sheriff I will implement a comprehensive protocol and response to domestic violence. This will include case reviews by an investigator, follow-up interviews, safety planning, and coordination with a victim advocate to build better cases, promote victim safety and hold offenders accountable.
Sgt. Fear – No response was received to this question.

The bottom line: Why should the voters of Johnson County hire you to be their next sheriff?
Sgt. Kunkel – When electing a sheriff, voters should examine the career, character and commitment to the community displayed by the candidate. As a lifelong resident of this community and a career servant to Johnson County, I’ve grown with Johnson County and have a deep understanding of where we’ve come from and where we’re going. A sheriff’s office is a complex organization and the experience of a deputy sheriff is invaluable to understanding the dynamics of the different divisions within the office such as the jail, civil department, and patrol. I also have important budget and personnel experience through service on the Solon City Council and on nonprofit boards. The sheriff is also a department head and it’s important to have a strong grasp of management skills as well. I have a proven record of service to public safety, public office and our non-profit partners in Johnson County that I’m very proud of. I will continue my commitment to service as your next sheriff.
Sgt. Fear - As sheriff, I will lead the sheriff’s office with transparency, trust and integrity. I will use collaborative leadership to create long lasting relationships with the community. I will hold people accountable for their actions and create positive, progressive change. I have more experience as a leader and more education than my competitor. I have more experience creating community programs such as the Eastern Iowa Heroin Initiative and CRUSH of Iowa. While I was the Director of the Heroin Initiative, I travelled around the state, hosting over 26 town hall meetings educating communities about the opioid epidemic. I was called to the Capitol building in Des Moines to educate legislators and give opinions on bills written. I have had the opportunity to work with the community at great length, as well as work tirelessly to address issues facing law enforcement and our county.
I will fight for all of Johnson County as sheriff because I have done so all of my life. I will not owe any political favors. I will work for you and only you. This election is not just about me, it is about us. We, together, will make a positive impact on Johnson County. People before politics. It’s time for change!
For more information about the candidates:
Brad Kunkel - www.kunkelforsheriff.com
Facebook: Brad Kunkel for Johnson County Sheriff
Instagram: Kunkelforjohnsoncountysheriff
Twitter: @Kunkelforsherif
Email:l kunkelforsheriff@gmail.com

Al Fear - www.alfearforsheriff.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/groups/alfearforsheriff