BENTON — Franklin County’s newest sheriff, David Bartoni, has inherited no shortage of problems.
The county’s jail is routinely at or above capacity, drugs still ravage the community, and all the while, resources to solve any of these issues are thin as ever.
Doing more with less isn’t a new idea, but it also isn’t seen as a temporary hurdle to overcome. It has become a mantra of sorts for many local counties and municipalities as they deal with shrinking tax bases and spotty or thin funding from Springfield — and this problem wasn’t created with the impasse, either. It was just magnified.
This strain is felt in law enforcement keenly — the problem becomes very visible, very quickly.
BENTON — Franklin County continued its slide to the right Tuesday, keeping up with the trend it set in 2016.
Bartoni said in an interview with The Southern that he is aware of all these things and is going to do his best to address them.
“We can’t arrest our way out of this problem,” he said.
He said something has to give — the jail is at or over capacity regularly he explained. He said he sees crime in Franklin County not as an isolated issue that can be treated with a scalpel — removed without consideration of the entire community.
He said poverty is leading to petty crime by way of drug addictions — small crimes are committed to feed a habit. But even, he said, some crimes are those of desperation — people finding a way to put food on the table or make ends meet somehow.
His job, he said, is always to protect the citizens, but this can mean more than harsh, unilateral punishments for bad guys. It means critically thinking about the problems at hand and facing them head on. He wouldn’t go into specifics, but said he is developing plans for the court system that could seek treatment and alternative forms of justice for some offenders that could run in tandem or enhance the county’s already-running drug and veterans courts.
They may cost money, money that in Franklin County is hard to come by, but he re-framed that idea, saying, “Can we afford not to do them?”
Bartoni, who ran in November as a Republican, was awarded his position in one of the quieter upsets in the region as he defeated friend and longtime county lawman Don Jones.
“It was emotional,” Bartoni said of the day he came to formally take his seat in Jones’ chair.
Bartoni said in their talks, Jones has handled the loss with dignity and professionalism.
For his part, Jones said he didn’t want to comment on the challenges Bartoni will be facing heading into his term as sheriff — he wanted to give him the breathing room to make his changes and see them succeed and Jones said word from his end could be seen as sour grapes, which he said is far from the case.
Franklin County State’s Attorney Evan Owens did weigh in, saying the focus won’t shift much.
“Our priorities going to continue to be victim crimes,” Owens said of the shift in power. Bartoni ran on a platform of focusing on children and elder fraud.
Both Owens and Bartoni said children have to be a focus of the courts.
“We know that these children aren’t going to have good outcomes unless we can do a good job at replacing their lack of parenting,” Owens said.
While not always directly the brunt end of a crime, Bartoni said children are impacted just as hard by drug crimes in particular.
“They’re drug victims, too,” he said.
Bartoni and Evans said budgeting is always an issue. More manpower would always help, but both said they know that with the shrinking tax base in Franklin County, as well as in Southern Illinois, this isn’t likely something that’s going to get better any time soon. That said, making smart choices is key.
“Spending your money wisely is always helpful, too,” Owens said. No matter the state of the county, he said people in law enforcement have always had to “roll up their sleeves and go to work.”
Bartoni recognized this, too, and said he will look for any gains, even something as a little as a five percent reduction as a step in the right direction.
“I would call that a victory,” he said.