Sheriff candidates gather for debate

Published 3:48 pm Monday, May 9, 2022

The debate between candidates for Bell County sheriff marks the 5th installment of The Big One events. Incumbent Mitch Williams faced off against Carl Frith and Jeremiah Johnson.

Frith’s career consists of a stint with Kentucky Department of Corrections, as park ranger at Kentucky State Parks, he worked under previous sheriff Bruce Bennett and is currently working for the Knox County Sheriffs Office. He has been in law enforcement for 20 years and the sheriffs office for eight. Williams started at the Pineville Police Department then joined the Kentucky State Police where he served as a detective in Bell County for 15 years. When he retired from this position he became sheriff and is seeking his third term. Johnson is an Iraq war veteran and served six years with the Kentucky Army National Guard. He has 10 years of law enforcement experience and is currently a Sargent at the Middlesboro Police Department.

Frith plans to address staffing, calls getting answered promptly and says if elected, residents will see him out and about. Williams will focus on the drug issue and rehabilitation, making a stronger effort to involve other agencies, and radio upgrades. He said they are currently filing for grants to makes these upgrades happen. Johnson will be advocating for the department and change, along with drug issues. He would also focus on wages and says he will advocate before the fiscal court for his employees if elected.

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Law enforcement encounters with mental illness was a topic of discussion. Williams said the office follows guidelines and participates in training. He encourages his deputies to interact with those who have mental illnesses. Johnson said the deputies are well suited to handle those with mental illness and disabilities and he would expects them to participate in available trainings. Frith said one thing he would like to do is attend the crisis intervention class that is 40 hours, he mentioned that he is currently trying to get into the class himself.

Frith previously owned trucks and has worked with large budgets in that business and in Knox county. He feels equipped to handle the departments budget.Williams said during his time in office his time in office he has saved the department $10,000 on tax collection costs. Johnson has experience with budgets as a medic in the military and wants to advocate for a bigger budget in the sheriff’s department.

Johnson said being ethical means doing the right thing and said he is running for sheriff to advocate for the people. Frith said that being ethical is also being truthful and not making promises you can’t keep. Williams believes that always doing what is right, even behind closed doors is what being ethical means to him. He doesn’t judge his deputies on how any tickets they have given, he wants to know how many people they have helped.

The candidates also discussed drug trafficking. Frith said he confronts cases after they have been built and noted it is also important to provide help to those with addiction. Williams believes that the sheriff’s office should not be the only agency held accountable. He said he would continue to work with the drug task force to address the problem. Johnson said it goes back to staffing issues and budgets, and he wants to employ programs to get to the root of  addiction and mental health.

In closing statement, Johnson said there is currently a wide range of issues at the department, but that the deputies do a great job. He wants to offer rehabilitation programs for inmates and a transition program for those that are finished serving their sentence. Williams said there is a lot that goes into the sheriffs office and said to increase manpower taxes would have to be raised. Frith wants to get the department back in schools doing programs to inform the students.