The Aug. 25 Republican runoff for Cleveland County sheriff features two candidates who say they will prioritize increasing law enforcement presence in all areas of the county and maintaining the trust of the community.
Chris Amason, a retired commander of the Norman Police Department’s investigations division, received 45.5 percent of the vote in the June 30 primary. Finishing second was Rick Adkins, a current lieutenant in the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office, who took home 21.1 percent. Candidates Micheal Freeman and Tim Deal did not make the runoff.
Since nobody secured more than 50 percent of the vote, Amason and Adkins will face each other in the runoff. The victor will take on independent candidate Kelly Owings in November. Interim Cleveland County Sheriff Blake Green, who took over after Todd Gibson resigned in April and became chief of police in Moore, did not run for the election.
“To have 45 percent of the vote in a four-man primary, I’m very proud of that,” Amason told NonDoc. “We’ve been approaching [the runoff] like we’ve come from behind and working just as hard as we did in the primary.”
Adkins said Amason’s first-place finish in the primary doesn’t worry him.
“I didn’t ever feel like any one person would win it outright in the primary,” Adkins said. “I believe Amason and I are really strong candidates, and I never really felt like anyone one person would win. My strategy was to just be one of the top two.”
Experience in law enforcement
Amason retired from NPD after the primary, and he emphasizes that the range of experience he gained in the department qualifies him to serve as sheriff.
He said law enforcement leaders have to know how to respond to difficult situations such as officer-involved shootings, homicides or crimes involving child victims.
“I’ve already successfully handled those types of incidents,” he said. “That is experience you can’t gain otherwise, other than being there and actually being a part of those investigations.”
He said working as a police commander in the third largest city in Oklahoma gave him exposure to training, opportunity and leadership that he “would not have at any other place.”
“Norman Police Department has a stellar reputation across the state,” Amason said. “I am going to be proud to have served there.”
Adkins, who has served in the McClain County Sheriff’s Office and the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office for nearly five years, said he knows what people expect from the sheriff’s office because of his time in the patrol division, patrolling in the eastern and southern parts of Cleveland County.
“I believe I’m in a unique position to know what the voice, as a county, is in its entirety,” Adkins said. “[CCSO] is very complex in the fact that we have a lot of [Oklahoma City] metro and a lot of rural, real rural areas.”
Like most county sheriff offices, CCSO is responsible for patrolling rural and unincorporated areas, courthouse security, the county jail and responding to calls municipalities can’t answer.
“If someone calls the sheriff’s office and asks for help (…) we are obligated to go help them no matter where it’s at,” Adkins said.
Plans for keeping Cleveland County safe
Both candidates want to increase law enforcement’s presence in both rural and urban communities and are offering plans to improve the safety of Cleveland County.
In 2019, Adkins was involved in creating the IMPACT Team, a special units team within CCSO, which he described as “more or less a street crimes team” and which he wants to make full time.
According to Adkins’ campaign site, the team “targets high crime areas throughout all of Cleveland County and collects intelligence related to the criminal activity and safety of our citizens.”
“Human trafficking is a huge deal for me — and drug trafficking,” Adkins said. “I’m pretty versed in investigating drug trafficking and violent criminals. And that’s who that team is going to try to rid.”
According to CCSO public information officer Joy Hampton, over the years the office has featured various incarnations of the IMPACT Team, which usually provides additional security on holidays and special events.
“The sheriff’s office has a lot of special teams — multi agency partnerships, special projects,” Hampton said. “The IMPACT Team has been one incarnation of that. But this is not a totally unique or new idea.”
Adkins also lists detention diversion and improved training and equipment among his priorities.
Amason said that as sheriff he would focus on hiring and retaining deputies, ensuring positive responses and fostering trust.
“It is very important to have the right people in those positions — and they’re there for the right reasons,” Amason said. “With the climate that we have today, it’s probably keeping a lot of people that would ordinarily opt to serve the community and keep them from even applying right now.”
Like Adkins, he also wants to increase law enforcement response and presence in unincorporated parts of the county.
“Under my administration, [citizens are] going to see my deputies in the urban areas and the rural areas. I don’t want to ever forget our rural areas. A lot of times they get left out or forgotten in the law enforcement response,” Amason said. “They deserve the high level of service as anyone else. Part of that is being able to distribute the deputies across the county in an equitable way so that we don’t have a cluster of deputies in one part and nothing in the other part.”
According to the CCSO’s 2019 annual report, the office employees 22 patrol deputies and two K-9 deputies. The sheriff’s office served 445 criminal warrants and had 2,680 cases investigating or involving police action.
The office’s total approximate payroll cost for Fiscal Year 2019 was about $10.1 million, according to the report. The detention division accounted for 64 percent of the payroll, leaving 35 percent to operations and admin and 1 percent to the courthouse division.
The OSBI’s page listing Cleveland County crime statistics can be found here.
Both candidates oppose current efforts to cut law enforcement funding that have followed nationwide protests against police brutality. Norman, in particular, has drawn attention after the Norman City Council voted to give the local police department only a fraction of its requested budget increase, resulting in the elimination of nine staff positions, seven of which were currently vacant.
Of the $865,000 of diverted money, $630,000 went to community outreach programs and $235,000 was dedicated for the creation of an internal auditor program.
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Amason said he thinks the vote was driven by a small group within the community.
“What I’ve seen with the outcry of the public, I don’t believe that the majority of the citizens believe the police should be defunded,” he said. “Now can we do things in a better way? Absolutely — I think that the charge of law enforcement is always to find a way to do things better.”
Amason said he would have preferred to see deeper discussion about any funding decisions.
“Now, if they presented themselves with a plan to reallocate funds from the total police budget to some other community services that are going to help lift the burden off of police, then that’s another thing,” he said.
Amason said as a law enforcement officer and the chief executive of the sheriff’s office, it would be his responsibility for his deputies to treat all citizens equally. He said transparency is extra important in the current climate.
“I think if we keep an open line of communication, with me directly as the sheriff, you show them where we are taking this agency and where we are going to go,” Amason said. “If we are open and transparent through the good times and the bad times, I think that’s what helps build legitimacy and trust with the community that we serve.”
Another one of Amason’s goals is to create a multi-agency jurisdictional investigative team within Cleveland County under the umbrella of the sheriff’s office.
“It would be more like a task force of an investigative team to investigate major cases and officer-involved shootings,” Amason said. “I feel like if we have a collaboration of many agencies of many investigators coming in, that’s going to help alleviate the perception of an agency whitewashing an investigation or not doing an investigation the way it should be. We will have an outside agency to include OSBI. If they are willing to participate, I would love to have them be a part of that.”
Adkins said he thinks calls to reduce police funding are “very irresponsible (…) and very dangerous for the citizens.”
“If you want to take money, take it from somewhere else,” Adkins said regarding the Norman City Council’s widely discussed votes. “You do not take money from your core departments just because you’re mad at them. No matter what you think, there’s still people killing people, there’s still people abusing people — robbing. When you take resources from those who combat that, you are going to see more violence or more crime.”
Adkins, meanwhile, said the overwhelming majority of law enforcement officers choose the profession because “they value life.”
“I acknowledge that there are exceptions. I believe our culture as a whole needs to change to value all lives,” Adkins said. “Ongoing training on current and past events, as well as positioning supervisors that are sensitive to the morale, culture and feelings of their staff are key in noticing any bias or agenda that is contrary to our mission, vision and values.”
He added that he wants law enforcement officers to value compassion.
“If we approach every situation with compassion in our hearts and in our minds, we can move towards positive change,” Adkins said.
Candidates tout endorsements
Both Adkins and Amason gained key endorsements and support from multiple elected officeholders within Cleveland County.
Amason has been endorsed by Cleveland County Commissioner Harold Haralson, retired Norman Police Chief Phil Cotten, Oklahoma state Rep. Kevin West (R-Moore), state Rep. Chris Kannady (R-OKC), House Majority Floor Leader Rep. Jon Echols (R-OKC) and Freeman, who lost in the July 30 Republican primary.
Although Gibson, the former sheriff and current chief of police in Moore, is not allowed to make any outright endorsements, he said he will be voting for Amason.
“What I told people, when asked who I’m voted for — I’m voting for Chris Amason,” Gibson said. “I think the City of Moore and Cleveland County as a whole, it is similar to a lot of places across the county. We want the same thing everybody else wants — a high quality of life.”
One issue he’s particularly concerned with is Moore’s partnership with CCSO on detention at the Cleveland County Jail. The City of Moore does not have a jail, Gibson said, adding that the Cleveland County Jail is a place where detainees are “treated as humans and will receive their day in court appropriately.”
“I want to make sure, as chief of police, that it stays in place,” Gibson said.
Adams said he’s known Adkins for the better part of 20 years on a professional and personal level. To Adams, Adkins is someone who is compassionate about law enforcement and serving, he said.
“He knows the sheriff’s department inside and out. He knows he knows law enforcement inside and out,” Adams said. “He’s able to talk to people from all walks of life. He has the compassion and desire to serve everyone in this county — not only the metropolitan area, but the rural areas as well.”
Adams said that as the mayor of a small town, he knows mutual aid between the sheriff’s office and local police departments is very important. He said he trusts Adkins to establish mutual trust and cooperation with local communities.
“He’s a man of his word, I think that’s probably the most important thing,” Adams said.