New sheriff in town
More than a job, law enforcement is family tradition for Doug Timmons
Being Hamilton County Sheriff is more than just a job to Doug Timmons, of Stratford. It is also a family tradition of serving in law enforcement that began with his father, retired Webster City Police Officer Gene Timmons.
“With my dad being in law enforcement as I was growing up, I saw it all, the good the bad and the ugly,” Timmons said.
When he was young, his dad would come home at night or in the morning and the first thing he would ask was, “Dad what happened?” His interest only grew as his dad shared the stories of his days on the job. Hearing the stories, he knew that’s what he wanted to do. Timmons began his career in law enforcement 23 years ago, in February of 1995.
Timmons admitted what his father did for a living seemed exciting to him when he was young. He recalled times when he would break in on his parents stealing some peaceful time, sitting in the patrol car when it was parked in the driveway. He wanted to hear the scanner, know what was going on, and he always had questions. By the time he was 10 or 11, he knew that he would end up a law enforcement officer.
Timmons did two years of college at Iowa Central, and was a reserve in Webster City, which gave him some law enforcement experience. Reserves are unpaid volunteers that get to ride along with police officers to assist at special events such as county fairs and sporting events. Sometimes they would assist by staying at to secure a crime scene, he explained. He had been an Explorer Scout, behaved himself, and always avoided anything that would keep him from entering law enforcement. He “kept his nose clean,” he explained.
He was hired in Winnebago County in 1995. He went to the Law Enforcement Academy in Johnston, and graduated in December of that same year. He and his wife had a son and knew they wanted to get back home, so when an opening came up in the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department, he applied. In July of 2000, he started at the local sheriff’s office as a deputy sheriff and had been serving in that capacity ever since. Timmons ran for the sheriff’s position after the former sheriff, Dennis Hagenson, announced that he would retire at the end of 2016. Timmons said he formed a committee, and won the primary and general election. He took office as the new sheriff, effective January 1, 2017.
“It’s a good feeling when you start out in a job, to know you’ve reached a goal,” said Timmons. “And my goal now that I have become sheriff is, to have a good, sound, respected office. Reflecting on the previous four sheriffs that served before him, “You’ve had a good group of guys that wore the badge, a lot of pride there, they did a good job,” he said.
Timmons is still getting himself acclimated to the new office, figuring out what he needs to do on an everyday basis. “I’ve got good staff that has helped me out with a lot of that,” he said. He has three secretaries, nine deputies, 14 jailers and when fully staffed, 7 dispatchers and two part-timers, to man the office 24/7, according to Timmons. The window never closes. Overseeing all the different divisions in the office, clerical, dispatch, the jail and the deputies, is his responsibility, making sure everything is kept running smoothly.
The list of responsibilities also includes things like issuing gun permits, and arranging transportation for prisoners. The sheriff’s office is responsible for the towns they contract with, unincorporated areas of the county, county gravels, interstates, county parks and they work in cooperation with police officers, taking care of prisoners in the jail, dispatch and various other civil tasks.
Trends in law Enforcement
Among the duties of the sheriff’s office is transporting someone that a judge has signed committal orders for. That’s been a growing problem in the state. There are not as many hospitals that take them and there are not as many beds. “It’s a major problem,” Timmons said. He mentioned one man who had to stay at the hospital for an entire week before they could find a place for him. He needed some help and they were trying to find the right people to help him, said Timmons. They ended up taking him to the only place there was room, in Lincoln, Nebraska to get him help. “It’s a struggle because there are so many places closing. There are not enough physiologists out there and there are so many different issues going on. We struggle with it but then think about the person who needs the help, dealing with these issues. They are the ones suffering. It’s terrible to see,” he said. While some of those issues may be attributed to drug use, some are just due to life circumstances, or physical and medical reasons, he commented.
The drug problem remains a concern with significant, constant battles, according to Timmons. Officers do not yet carry Narcan, a narcotic used to block or reverse the effects of opioid overdoses, but he sees a time when it may become necessary. “I hope it doesn’t come to that, but drug trends come and go and unfortunately it may come this way,” he said.
Facebook has been introduced at the sheriff’s office. “Social media is huge,” said Timmons. “When I took office I got that stated. Everybody is on and it helps keep everyone informed about what is going on,” he said. “Our web page which we’re trying to get going, the SALT meetings, and news media all help us stay connected to the public.”
“If you watch the news, you’ve seen how many officers have been killed. That is huge. Every time you strap on the uniform or the vest you know that something could happen and you might not come home. You don’t accept it, but you just have to be vigilant, be on your toes. And each officer says, ‘I’ve got your six.’ “ he said.
“You have to think long and hard before you commit to this job,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good job, we’ve got good comradely. When something needs to get done, everybody works together to get it done. But there are unfortunate things that happen,” said Timmons. “People are more aware of the challenges law enforcement officers are facing,” he said, adding they get a lot of good support. “People at church or a sporting event, they know who you are. You take off the uniform and you are just like them. They’re there to support us, but the way the world is today, you never know what’s going to happen. We just come to work and try to do our best, and we have each other’s back and the public has our back.”
Agencies work together to find suspects or offenders and use of computers, emails, and other forms of technology are growing every day according to Timmons. “Every car has an in car camera. We also have body cams. We can download information and all of our videos, which not only help us write the reports but help us remember it with the actual footage from the call And to see what you can show if it goes to jury trail and that is very useful,” said Timmons. Old school radios are still used but vehicles now are equipped with computers that allow officers to message back and forth, to know where officers or suspects are at for safety reasons and relay where and when backup is needed. Sensitive information can be relayed more securely by not using a radio or scanner. Running plates, checking on drivers, checking for stolen items, faxing and accessing their in house computer makes it possible to do almost everything from their vehicles. The technology comes at a price, according to Timmons, but, any law enforcement officer or agency can be communicated with during an investigation as long as they have the same program.
Fully staffed, technology enhanced, Timmons also look towards making improvements in officer training, defensive tactics and firearms and other areas of enforcement. “We have to keep up on so much mandatory training every year. With our busy schedules sometimes that’s hard to do but we have been doing a really good job,” he said. “It’s training that will keep everyone safer.”
The thing Timmons enjoys most about the job is being able to help people. “You can see a difference,” he said. “Like with kids at school, helping them to see we are not the bad guys, don’t be scared of us, when we get home we take the uniform off and we are just average everyday people.” he said. “Helping someone in distress, like when they are facing mental challenges, communicating with the public, helping them, and maybe six months later they come back and thank you for helping them to get their life turned around. It makes you feel good.”
Not every part of the job is exciting or rewarding. There is the danger, but also the sadness, such as when they must deal with traffic fatalities, having to go to a family in the middle of the night and tell them what’s happened to their loved ones. “That’s hard, you don’t forget those,” said Timmons.
His dad retired from the police department in 1999. Knowing his dad is proud of him carries some satisfaction. His dad and mom, Linda, and other family members helped him with his campaign and his parents have always stood by him, he said. “They have been huge,” he added, in their support. “Dad has influenced me to be, who I am today,” said Timmons.
He is not shy about expressing how strong hearted he feels about his position. He loves his job and loves helping people and seeing successful outcomes, “getting things done,” he said.
Every four years, Timmons will come up for re-election. As for how long he hopes to serve as sheriff he said “I look forward to serving Hamilton County until the day I decide to retire, as long as I am willing and able and to letting people know my door is always open.”