Above: Former Columbia Township Police Chief David Elwell, right, shakes hands with Sgt. Jay Niles, who is now interim chief for the department. Elwell is now running for Jackson County Sheriff. Would he be a good one?
By Matt Schepeler
Publisher, The Exponent/IrishHillsLive.com
When David Elwell first hired in as Columbia Township Police Chief, to be honest, we had our doubts. Our very first impression was that he was carrying some baggage from a traffic accident that had happened years before, which some people claimed had been a cover-up.
Did our new chief have character issues?
Who was this guy?
We looked into and reported on the accident, and Elwell was forthcoming in telling of his role in it. While the incident was very unfortunate, there clearly was no cover-up. It had been reported on and followed extensively by the Jackson Citizen Patriot, and the legal system had done its due diligence.
But we still had our doubts about the new chief. At first glance, Elwell seemed more of a politician than police chief, and he was walking into a mess. When he hired in at Columbia, the police department was in shambles. Supervisor Ray Kuzminski was cleaning house, and had just fired Police Chief Mark Hunter. Kuzminski wanted an outsider to come into the department – an excellent management decision, in hindsight — and hired Elwell.
The information that came out about the department following Hunter’s firing was not only embarrassing to the department, but made national headlines, including allegations of in-house affairs, sex tapes, child pornography, drug use and improper gun accounting.
Not only was department morale low, but the public wondered if the township should even be in the police business. As a busy township, many residents felt that extra protection was needed in Columbia, but the department had acquired a serious respectability issue, and not only from the scandal. In the years prior to Hunter’s leaving, the department had flirted with boat patrols, bike patrols, and more, and it seemed to have lost its bearings as to how a township police department should function.
It took time, but the department came back. And over the coming years, as Elwell fostered the relationship between the agency and the community, he earned our confidence.
During his time as Columbia’s Police Chief, Elwell remained approachable to anyone in the community. Whenever controversy arose, which happens in the police business, Elwell would take the time to explain the department’s position and some of the background information that might not be evident at first glance. Over the years, we came to know him as a multi-dimensional and a thoughtful man.
While every crime that happened in Columbia Township was not solved, many, many were, due to extensive behind-the-scenes work that most small police departments would not tackle or would simply let slide into history. The department’s diligence and ingenuity in pursuing and closing cases was a reflection on all the officers, but particularly on their boss.
While we cannot personally vouch for officer morale, we never had an officer approach us to complain about Elwell’s management style or how the department was being handled. Over his almost 15 years in Columbia, he was a consistent and steady presence.
Many people in Jackson County believe the sheriff’s department mirrors what the Columbia Police Department looked like 15 years ago. They, too, have suffered through a scandal at the top. They, too, have a respectability issue in the greater community, through no fault of the working ranks. The relationship between the community and the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department has been damaged at the management level, which, unfortunately, reflects on the entire department.
We believe that David Elwell could come in and provide the department an injection of fresh perspective. Just as importantly, we believe that Elwell would restore confidence in the department to the greater community. He did that here, at the township level, over time, by running a fundamentally sound police department. He could certainly do it on a larger stage.
We understand that bringing in someone from the outside may be uncomfortable for some long-time employees in the department. Change makes people nervous. But, as we saw in Columbia, bringing in a good manager with a fresh perspective can sometimes be a good move, and we believe that over time he would win over the officer’s support.
It should also be noted that Elwell, who has been an active county commissioner representing the Blackman Township area, has extensive knowledge into the workings of county government. He is exceptionally qualified for this job, not only from a policing perspective, but as a manager with a grasp on the workings of county government.
We do not doubt that the two candidates opposing Elwell for the Republican nomination are well qualified and would serve honorably in the capacity of sheriff, but, to us, David Elwell appears to be the right candidate for this job right now.
We think that residents who seriously want to see positive changes in the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department would do well to vote for David Elwell in the Republican Primary, then, should he win, again in November.