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Harford sheriff, seeking third term, faces familiar challenger

Harford County Sheriff Jesse Bane, first elected in 2006, is seeking a third term as the county's top lawman. A Democrat, Bane has won elections in a county where voters typically favor Republicans.
Harford County Sheriff Jesse Bane, first elected in 2006, is seeking a third term as the county's top lawman. A Democrat, Bane has won elections in a county where voters typically favor Republicans. (AEGIS FILE PHOTO / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Harford County Sheriff Jesse Bane is fighting for his third term as the county's top law enforcement officer and will have to beat a familiar foe to remain in charge of the county's principal law enforcement agency.

Bane, a Democrat, faced and defeated Republican Jeff Gahler in the 2010 general election, although it was by a tight margin. Bane won by 3,086 votes, receiving 47,347 out of the 91,738 votes cast in the sheriff's race, compared to Gahler's 44,261 votes, according to data posted on the Harford County Board of Elections website.

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"A change in the Sheriff's Office is desperately needed," Gahler, 49, of Forest Hill, said. "You need to get the focus back on public safety and get the office out of politics."

Bane, obviously, disagrees with that view.

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"I'm seeking re-election because I care about Harford County," Bane said. "I want to make a difference in Harford County and I've made a difference in Harford County up to this point."

The Sheriff's Office is responsible for law enforcement and traffic enforcement outside the county's three municipalities, as well as for circuit court security, serving warrants and operation of the county detention center. It has more than 525 employees and an annual budget of $69 million, according to county budget figures. Both are second only to the school system among agencies that receiving significant county funding.

Bane, 66, of Fallston, was elected sheriff in 2006 and re-elected in 2010. He has been with the Sheriff's Office 42 years.

"I care about people," he said. "That's why I've given 42 years of my life in service to the citizens of Harford County."

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Gahler retired from the Maryland State Police in June 2012 at the rank of captain, with about 28 years of service that included command of the Bel Air Barrack and command of the Northern Troop overseeing troopers in Carroll, Cecil and Harford counties.

He is an operating partner in the Advanced Leadership Consortium of Bel Air, a leadership and management training firm.

"You want to serve your community, you want to make a difference, and the sheriff is the pinnacle of that," Gahler said of why he is running. "You're elected by the people, you answer to the people, you're in a position to make real change when it's needed."

Gahler is challenging Bane on a "host of issues, including conditions at the Harford County Detention Center, an uptick in violent crime, traffic issues, what he called a heroin epidemic and deputy morale.

Gahler has been endorsed by the Harford County Correctional Association, the corrections officers' union, while Bane has been endorsed by the Harford County Deputy Sheriff's Union.

"There's just a host of issues facing Harford County, and outside leadership is certainly what's needed to right the ship," Gahler said.

Bane said major crimes are at their lowest level in Harford since the FBI began publishing its annual Uniform Crime Report for the county in 1975, and he points out on his campaign website an overall 12 percent drop in crime when comparing the first six months of 2014 to the first half of 2013.

"My record speaks for itself," the sheriff said. "We have the lowest crime rates that this county has ever experienced."

He noted that Harford has one of the lowest crime rates in the state, while at the same time, his agency has not seen an increase in its budget during the past six years.

"I have no learning curve," he said. "I have hit the ground running, and I continue to run."

Violent crime, however, continues to be an issue. Bane was interviewed several hours after a 22-year-old man was shot in Edgewood Monday evening.

Bane said he wants to continue fighting Harford's drug issues, its issues with traffic fatalities and the recidivism rate among county jail inmates, in that they are released from the jail, commit another crime and come right back.

"We have one of the highest recidivism rates, and that needs to be addressed if we want to save tax dollars," he explained.

The sheriff praised his patrol deputies, detectives and crime scene technicians for their efforts to reduce crime using the latest technology and crime analysis, as well as traditional "shoe leather."

"They are the nuts and bolts of fighting crime in Harford County," he said.

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