Election spotlight: Champaign County Sheriff

Dustin+Heuerman+%28left%29+and+John+Brown+%28right%29+are+the+two+candidates+for+Champaign+County+Sheriff+during+the+2022+midterm+election+

Photos courtesy of Illinois Public Media and Illinois.gov

Dustin Heuerman (left) and John Brown (right) are the two candidates for Champaign County Sheriff during the 2022 midterm election

By Aidan Sadovi, Staff Writer

Note: Official results for this race have not been posted yet. Stay tuned for updates.

Race update Wednesday, 12:20 a.m.

Incomplete results of early voting, mail-in and election day ballots at the time of update show that Democrat Dustin Heuerman is ahead with 31,334 votes. Republican John Brown has 27,077 votes.

Race update Tuesday, 11:45 p.m.

Incomplete results of early voting, mail-in and election day ballots at the time of update show that Democrat Dustin Heuerman is ahead with 27,295 votes. Republican John Brown has 23,643 votes.

Race update Tuesday, 11:00 p.m.

Incomplete results of early voting, mail-in and election day ballots at the time of update show that Democrat Dustin Heuerman is ahead with 30,900 votes. Republican John Brown has 27,002 votes.

These results are not official, nor have all ballots been counted at this time. Please continue to check this article for more information. 

Post-election day comments

According to current ballot counts, Sheriff Dustin Heuerman is on the path to being reelected. 

According to Heuerman, his opponent conceded the race late on election night, which Brown confirmed in an email, saying he “congratulated Dustin last night on his victory.”

In an email, the incumbent spoke of some of the keys to his victory, and why the public was open to four more years of Sheriff Heuerman. 

“I’ve been working hard over the last four years to show Champaign County I’m worthy of the role of sheriff. I didn’t (and still don’t) want to be a politician who tells people what they want to hear just to get elected, then not do any of it until right before the re-election,” Heuerman wrote via email. 

The sheriff also spoke of his “open-mindedness” as a draw for the public. 

“I’m also very open-minded and not too politically extreme one way or the other, which I believe the majority of people appreciate. I believe the voters saw I am willing to make the right decisions for the right reasons and want more of that from their elected officials,” the sheriff said.

For his coming term, Heuerman spoke of two big changes that were first started during his first term that “should be completed in 2024.” 

The two projects are the consolidated jail project and the sheriff’s office relocation project. Heuerman said the consolidation project, which is an addition to the current satellite jail, will provide a better space for inmates put into his custody. 

“This will allow us to better meet the needs of the inmates while increasing the safety and security of the jail. This, in turn, should lead to better mental health for both employees and inmates,” he said.  

Heuerman said the relocation of the Sheriff’s office to County Plaza in Urbana will “allow us to have space that is more conducive to effective operations, which translates into better service for Champaign county residents.”

Heuerman also said that he’s looking to continue a culture shift at the sheriff’s office to “one that is supportive and welcoming for all employees,” along with evaluating the salary for employees at the office, which he called “one of the more immediate changes,” before adding that he “wants to make sure we are adequately compensating employees for the work we are asking them to do.”  

Heuerman said the culture shift was something he started in his first term, “but like all meaningful change, takes time to fully implement and there are a lot of things that can affect its progress.” 

Heuerman would also say that “we will continue to put emphasis on recruitment and retention, which will lead to an increased work-life balance for employees as overtime is reduced.” 

Heuerman added that over the last four years he thinks that the public has seen that he is “genuine.” 

“I think that goes a long way,” Heuerman said.

Background information, discussion

In the Champaign County sheriff’s race, Democratic incumbent Dustin Heuerman is up against GOP challenger John Brown. 

Although Heuerman has worked in public service for 23 years, some of which has been in law enforcement – including in uniformed patrol and plainclothes narcotics investigations – Brown has emphasized his 32 years of experience in different law enforcement capacities, including with the University of Illinois Police Department, during the campaign. 

“You know, the common theme that I heard over and over again, or the common statement that was made several times was that Dustin’s a nice guy, but he’s in over his head,” Brown said at a candidate forum hosted at the ARC two weeks ago. 

Heuerman sees this experience as a not entirely positive aspect of his opposing candidate. 

“Thirty years of experience is great, but that’s why we have the same philosophies and the same things over and over and over, and I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of doing things the same way over and over and over,” Heuerman said at the forum. 

Along with a need for crisis prevention training, Brown believes that “there needs to be a more vigorous program for mental health for the deputies,” and referred to an incident last year when an individual entered an armed altercation with deputies after driving a truck into a jail. 

Brown addressed the current sheriff’s statements at the last forum when Heuerman said that corrections officers received mental health care after the event. 

“It just did not happen,” he said in an election day interview. “None of the officers were provided with any mental health counseling, and those were traumatic experiences for those involved.” 

Brown continued to say that there were a number of incidents in the past four years in which officers were never offered any counseling. 

He added that he was reached out to run by deputies at the sheriff’s office “who started telling him about their concerns within the organization.” 

Brown acknowledged in the forum that there “has been a history of discrimination within policing,” and said that, if elected, he would institute the recommendations of the presidential 21st-century policing report, which was created under the Obama administration. 

In the same forum, Brown said that one of the things that he thinks has caused rising crime in the county is a lack of officer proactivity in response to the “defund the police” movement.

“One of the big things that have caused that is a lack of police officers being proactive, because of the ‘defund the police movement’ and some of the other issues, they haven’t felt supported…So you’ve seen an increase in crime,” he said in October. 

Brown called the office “like a family.” 

“You want to see it do well,” he added. 

In 2018, when he won, Heuerman was the first democratic sheriff to run for office since the 1990s and is the first Democratic sheriff to serve the county since the 1930s. Heuerman is also one of five openly LGBTQ+ sheriffs in the country. 

“Just because I have a gun in a badge on does not mean that I have this awesome authority, and you need to do what I tell you to do because I tell you to do it, that is too often a philosophy, and quite honestly a philosophy of law enforcement that has been around for a really long time that I’ve been striving to change,” Heuerman said at the forum a week ago. 

Heuerman also spoke of the need to develop positive relationships between the community and law enforcement, and spoke about events he has held like “coffee with a cop,” and a back-to-school barbecue and giveaway of free school supplies in Savoy. 

“And that is the type of community engagement that I have really strived to provide over the last four years,” Heuerman said at the ARC forum. 

Heuerman also spoke of his response to the SAFE-T act in Illinois, which would eliminate cash bail, and said that it “doesn’t matter what he personally thought about it, but (he) needs to encourage my deputies, I need to make sure that they realize that on this court or on this legislative mandate that law enforcement is going to get through this,” he said. 

“One of the things that I’ve done as a leader is I didn’t think the sky was falling,” the incumbent sheriff said. 

Heuerman would also say that it “it’s not necessarily a bad thing” that law enforcement officers have left, referencing increasing levels of staff turnover.  

“There are unethical law enforcement officers out there. There are unethical correctional officers out there. And it seems like that when you start enforcing some of those policies and procedures, they don’t like being called out for some of those things that they’ve gotten away with for a very long time,” Heuerman said. 

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