Monroe County's new sheriff is officially ready for duty. Sheriff Todd Baxter was sworn in Tuesday evening and during his ceremony, he listed a number of top priorities, including: fighting the opioid epidemic, working closely with deputies, increasing community presence and changing the county jail so it’s less of a revolving door.
“The heroin epidemic is the greatest public safety challenge any of us have ever seen in our lifetime,” he said. “This epidemic in 2016 claimed 169 lives and in 2017 it’s only gotten worse. November, we had 97 overdoses in this county alone with 16 resulting in death. I cannot stand for this as your sheriff.”
Baxter said he plans to immediately begin making an impact and in the coming week will appoint an incident commander who “will take the helm” of the office’s efforts on this front. He said he’ll also create a command post with daily briefings and the power to more quickly deploy life-saving and law enforcement services.
However, he’s not just generating ideas from the top. Baxter said he plans to empower deputies and include their voices in everything from their contracts to strategies in policing. He said it makes for a smoother transition and strategies that not only work better because they’re based on field experience, but are also more likely to be supported by the deputies themselves. And he had a message to the sellers of the drug:
“Let it be known if you’re distributing this poison in our community, 1,100 deputies are coming for you.”
Even before his swearing-in ceremony, Baxter got a head start. He visited the county jail at 3 a.m. Monday, as part of a process to get to know his staff.
“Today I’ll challenge every deputy, get out of the car,” he said, “It’s a barrier between you and the public. Get out and walk the villages. Get out and walk the towns. You’ll see us in the city. City taxpayers are paying for a service they’re not getting a lot out of besides incarcerating kids out of the city streets.”
Baxter is the first member of the Democratic Party to hold this office in over a decade. And during his campaign, Baxter’s party affiliation was constantly questioned because he’d switched parties to run against former sheriff Patrick O’Flynn. However, on Tuesday, Baxter said he doesn’t want politics to interfere with serving the law and asked his deputies to reserve their own politics when wearing the badge.
“We are not political," he said. "We serve all and we care for all. To the staff of the Monroe County Sheriff’s office, I do not want your political affiliations, I don’t care. I want your dedication to the oath of office and to the badge we hold so true and that we’re all willing to give our life for.”