Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler said Monday that despite tragedies his department has faced over the past four years, the office has made strides in the fight against the opioid epidemic and in keeping county schools safe.
As he was sworn in for a second term Monday in a ceremony at the John Carroll School in Bel Air, Gahler vowed to continue those efforts and keep the Harford County Sheriff’s Office running smoothly.
The sheriff, who handily won re-election last month, referenced the “unimaginable loss within our … family” during his first term. Two deputies — Pat Dailey and Mark Logsdon — were shot and killed in Abingdon in February 2016.
Gahler noted that the department has responded to other tragedies as well. Three people were killed and two injured in a workplace shooting at Advanced Granite Solutions in Edgewood in October 2017, and four people were killed and three were injured in a workplace shooting at Rite Aid warehouse in Perryman in September.
He said “the last four years have aged us all and proved more demanding and challenging than I ever imagined. Yet he also said he retained a “feeling of privilege to work with, and among, the exceptional men and women of this great agency.”
Gahler said he had committed in his first term to provide a more functional staffing model in the Sheriff’s Office and put more deputies on the streets. To that end, he said he worked to reorganize command positions, combined efforts to form a Crime Suppression Unit and implemented a countywide crime-fighting strategy.
The result, he said, has been three years of crime reduction. “That is something alone, but in the face of the worst opioid epidemic our country has ever experienced, it is simply remarkable,” he said.
On the opioid crisis, Gahler said the department has worked with local, state, federal and community partners to implement approaches that include “unapologetic enforcement” of drugs laws, with a focus on “those who deal death to so many and destroy family after family.”
Other efforts, such as the Substance Abuse Unit at the Harford County Detention Center and the HOPE House, have been aimed at education, treatment and prevention.
He said fighting the spread of opioids will remain a focus of the next four years and the Sheriff’s Office “will be steadfast in our commitment to driving the number of overdoses downward and to saving lives.”
The sheriff said other highlights of his first four years include hiring a work group to develop recruiting, extending outreach efforts of the Harford Sheriff Foundation, forging a partnership with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and expanding the school resource officer program to put a deputy in each public middle school and high school.
He also noted implementation of a new salary structure within the Sheriff’s Office and efforts to provide a voice for law enforcement and correctional deputies in budget discussions.
In addition to the opioid crisis, Gahler said the new term will include a focus on the use of technology and addressing the threat posed by active assailants, including “the related need for ever more training for our personnel and for our community members, and enhanced school safety.”
Monday’s ceremony drew an audience of family, friends and local dignitaries, including former Harford County sheriffs Joe Meadows and Bill Kunkel, who joined Gahler on the stage.
Sheriff’s Office Cpl. David McDougall, the 2018 National Sheriff’s Office Association Deputy of the Year, presented Gahler with the stars he will wear on his uniforms. They were pinned on by Gahler’s daughters, Shelby and Sydney Gahler, who stood by Gahler’s side with his wife, Sonya, as Circuit Court Administrative Judge Angela Eaves administered the oath of office.
Chief Deputy Col. Steven Bodway served as emcee for the event, Havre de Grace Middle School seventh-grader Maya Stephenson sang the national anthem and Mikey Shock, an 11th-grader at John Carroll, performed “God Bless America.”
“It was a big honor for me to perform here this evening for the inauguration for the sheriff,” Shock said afterward.
Carol MacCubbin was all smiles as she made her way to greet the sheriff, calling him “a great sheriff and a friend.”
“I think he’s doing a great job,” she said. “I think he’s always improving or trying to improve on the things he’s doing.”
Kunkel, Harford County’s longest serving sheriff — and who will be 91 in a few weeks — shared a few laughs with Gahler. He said the sheriff had endured “some really rough times in his first term. … I think he came through it pretty well, I think he’s doing a great job.”
Deputy First Class Jessica Bishop stood in her uniform waiting to congratulate Gahler. She expressed appreciation for her boss — and for the department.
“He’s just been awesome. I absolutely love working for this agency,” Bishop said.