Ed. note — The Independent News asked candidates for Virginia Beach sheriff to answer the following questions. This appeared in print on Friday, Nov. 3. Responses to question have not been edited, and they appear in the order of the candidate’s names on the ballot. Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 7.
John L. Bell Jr.
Residence: Virginia Beach
Age on Election Day: 65
Occupation: Retired Deputy Chief of Police, Virginia Beach Police Department
Key endorsements: Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Attorney General Mark Herring, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine
What are your specific qualifications for this office? I am a career public safety administrator with nearly 42 year of law enforcement experience. During my 18 years as a Police Captain and Deputy Chief of Police commanding police precincts, Detective Bureau and commanding one of three Divisions of the Virginia Beach Police Department, I have had the opportunity to have extensive command officer training. My experience provides me the training and skills needed to lead a large law enforcement agency such as the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office. I have received executive level training at the University of Louisville, the University of Richmond and Boston University. I received my Master of Public Administration degree from Troy University which shows my commitment to professional development. My experience as Deputy Chief required me to be a strategic thinker, planning the course of a division of the Police Department that included Internal Affairs, responsible for ensuring the integrity of the agency was maintained; Accreditation, which ensured that necessary policies, procedures and practices were in place; Professional Development and Training which included all training of the Police Department including in-service training for all officers and our 26 week Police Academy, and I served as the Departments executive liaison for Community Outreach where we worked to build trust and partnerships between the Police Department and the communities we served. Currently the Police Department’s Crisis Intervention Team which is a cadre of officers trained to interact with those in mental health crisis is the largest such program in the Commonwealth. I was responsible for managing this program in 2008 which included training Sheriffs deputies.
What are the most pressing issues to you and how will you address them in office? Today our youth are becoming more involved with gangs, drugs, and crimes involving firearms. Their actions have resulted in violence in our communities and their becoming a part of the criminal justice system. As Sheriff, I plan to have deputies in our communities building relationships with our youth and being mentors and role models. Prevention is smarter and “cheaper” than incarceration and who best to point out to our youth the life that awaits them behind bars than deputies who will control every moment of their lives behind bars. Many mentally ill inmates need treatment not incarceration. Proper treatment before contact with law enforcement can hopefully reduce the number of mentally ill behind bars. I will work with legislators and city leaders to make providing more treatment facilities instead of more jail cells a priority. Hampton Roads is a potential target for terrorism considering the number of military installations. A terrorist act will affect the ability of police officers to respond to routine calls for service. I will work to have deputies Basis Law Enforcement (BLE) Certified. This will allow police officers to respond to terrorist acts or natural disasters while deputies respond to routine calls for service keeping our citizens safe.
How will you coordinate with city officials to ensure proper function of your office? During my years as a Police Captain responsible of all night operations of the Police Department as a Command Duty Officer; a Commanding Officer leading two precincts, Detective Bureau; and Deputy Chief of Police, I have developed relationships with those in elected office on the City and State level as well as leaders of various City Departments. I will leverage the relationships I have established over the years to advance the mission of the Sheriff’s Office. This will include securing necessary funding for the operation of the Sheriff’s Office and support for new initiatives that will be developed. I am committed to strengthening the relationship between the Virginia Beach Police Department and the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office. The goal will be to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of both agencies and service provided to citizens. Having been a member of the VBPD for forty years, five years as a Deputy Chief of Police, I feel that this background will assist me in improving that relationship.
Residence: Great Neck Pines
Age on Election Day: 63
Occupation: Sheriff of Virginia Beach
Key endorsements: Virginia Beach Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #8, Police Benevolent Association 34, Del. Barry Knight and the rest of the Virginia Beach delegation to the Virginia General Assembly
What are your specific qualifications for this office? I bring nearly eight years of experience leading the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office, which runs Virginia’s largest jail. In that time, we have received consistently perfect scores on all major audits and inspections. That doesn’t happen by chance. It happens because of leadership and experience – experience my opponent doesn’t have. I also bring my experience as a lawyer, former Virginia Beach police officer and former Virginia Senator, which I will continue to leverage for meaningful change to public safety policy.
Before being elected sheriff in 2009 with nearly 70 percent of the vote, I served 18 years in the Virginia Senate representing Virginia Beach’s 8th Senatorial District. In the Senate, I served as the Republican Leader Pro Tempore, chairman of the Senate Finance Public Safety Subcommittee and chairman of the Crime Commission. In those roles, I championed stricter penalties for gang members, drunk drivers, drug dealers, sex offenders and perpetrators of domestic violence. I carried the legislation to abolish parole and fought to increase retirement benefits for first responders. I also helped improve the Line of Duty Act to ensure the children and spouses of public safety workers injured or killed on the job are appropriately cared for. I ensured K-12 education was fully funded and carried landmark measures to support small business, protect the consumer and eliminate and cut taxes. The Virginia Sheriffs’ Association, Fraternal Order of Police, Chiefs of Police, State Police Association, Virginia Beach Education Association, Retail Merchants Association of Virginia and Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce have all recognized me with their highest awards.
Prior to being elected to the Senate in 1991, I was a sergeant in the Virginia Beach Police Department, where I served from 1976 until 1987. I also served as an intelligence officer in the United States Naval Reserve.
Over the past two decades, I am proud to have been the leading advocate for public safety at the state and local levels. My unique experience and connections to policy makers throughout our Commonwealth make me the best person to continue leading the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office and keeping our families safe.
What are the most pressing issues to you and how will you address them in office? First, creating a more efficient jail system by expanding judges’ sentencing options and using technology. Not all offenders need to be locked up, only those who are a threat to public safety.
Second, continuing my focus on mental illness. I have dramatically improved care for mentally ill inmates, including quadrupling the number of mental health providers working in the jail, shuttering medical isolation and opening a specialized housing unit. I will continue to fight for resources to help inmates with a mental illness better transition back into the community, stay on their medication and find housing and support.
Third, continuing to equip inmates to become productive members of society. Our Reentry Program empowers offenders to make better decisions and be successful after their release from jail. With an 87 percent success rate, it is one of the most effective programs in the state.
Fourth, supporting our law enforcement officers. I have improved deputy pay, training and work conditions and the jail has become a safer place to work because of changes that have reduced inmate-on-deputy assaults by 33 percent. I also recognize the importance of law enforcement reflecting the community it serves and have actively recruited, retained and promoted a diverse and talented workforce, including becoming Virginia Values Veterans (V3) certified and promoting the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office’s first female chief deputy and first Filipino captain. I will continue working towards pay parity for our law enforcement officers, developing world-class training programs and ensuring our office reflects the community.
How will you coordinate with city officials to ensure proper function of your office? I work with city officials every day in my role as sheriff. The city determines the Sheriff’s Office’s budget and the budget process requires working closely with the city to negotiate pay raises, new positions and project funding. I have been successful in doing all three. That’s because my experience as a lawyer and a Virginia senator have equipped me to understand the budget and effectively broker compromise. As a result, the Sheriff’s Office budget has increased from $36 million a year to $48 million a year under my leadership. I have done my part to help fund that increase by generating more than $5 million a year to offset the amount taxpayers have to pay to operate the jail and the rest of the Sheriff’s Office. That money is generated multiple ways, including through the Inmate Workforce and Commissary sales. Our positive working relationship is why the majority of the Virginia Beach City Council, including Mayor Will Sessoms, has endorsed me for sheriff.
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