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Bell, White vie to lead Lake County Sheriff's Office

by Lake County Leader
| May 19, 2022 12:00 AM

There’s a contested race for Lake County sheriff/coroner on primary election ballots mailed to registered voters last week.

Sheriff Don Bell has held the position since 2015, after he defeated three other Republican candidates in the 2014 primary election. He is being challenged by Ronan Police Sgt. Corey White Jr.

Both men are running as Republicans, so the name of the primary election winner will appear on the November general election ballot as an unopposed candidate.

Bell resides in Ronan, where he was born, and graduated from Ronan High School. He and his wife have been married for nearly 42 years, and they have four grown sons. Bell earned an associate degree in computer science from Salish Kootenai College. He has volunteered as a Boy Scout leader and as a youth baseball coach in Pablo. He was among the volunteer security forces at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games at Salt Lake City.

Bell has 30 years of experience as a Tribal Police officer and as sheriff/coroner in Lake County. He earned the state’s Officer of the Year award in 2012. He also received the Trilogy award from FBI-LEEDA after completing all three of their leadership training programs. He is a graduate of the National Sheriffs' Institute and the FBI Intermountain Law Enforcement Executive Command College.

Bell has earned all possible peace officer certifications, from Peace Officer Basic to Peace Officer Command, as well as the Coroner Basic certification. He lists more than 50 completed training courses going back to the mid-1990s, including Advance Death Investigation from the Montana Coroners’ Association (2021) and FBI Intermountain Executive Law Enforcement Command College (2020).

Ronan Police Sgt. Corey White Jr., 30, is married with three children. He was born and raised in Polson, where he currently resides, and graduated from Polson High School. He attended the University of Phoenix and graduated from the Montana Law Enforcement Academy.

White has volunteered as a fireman and with the EMS. He also is a volunteer organizer with the Mission Valley Super Oval stock car track. He has participated in and organized highway clean-up events and has volunteered as a speaker with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and the Ronan/Pablo Schools.

White has served as a law enforcement officer for the last 7.5 years — as patrol officer, patrol deputy, corporal, sergeant, deputy coroner and undersheriff.

He was assigned as the Community Police Officer, a program through which he created positions of chaplain and explorer, and advanced the Reserve Officer Program. He also put together a books for badges social media campaign, blue badges for autism awareness and helped organize a Teddy Bear Hunt for the community. He was selected as the 2019 Ronan Police Department’s Officer of the Year.

He has helped implement programs to lessen the strain on budgets and create a better flow of information, and he served as the fleet manager for two different agencies. He has created/implemented field training programs and reserve deputy/officer programs and has served as a reserve coordinator with two different departments.

White has earned Montana POST Basic, Intermediate and Supervisor certificates. He lists nearly 30 completed training programs, including Drug Interdiction for Patrol Officers, Law Enforcement Active Shooter Emergency Response, Reid Technique of Interview and Interrogation Advanced and Naloxone Master Trainer.

Q: What makes you the best person for the job?

Bell: Prior to taking office in 2015, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office had been immersed in turmoil and was losing the trust of the community. I have worked hard to restore trust and stability in the office. Financially, I am responsible for eliminating tens of thousands of dollars in wasteful overtime spending that was taking place prior to my tenure. Since taking office, I have done my due diligence as a leader to address disciplinary issues. This has prevented controversy, which leads to public mistrust. Under my leadership, sheriff’s office employees enjoy a professional environment where everyone does their part to help keep our county safe. Additionally, I have … worked closely with Lake County commissioners on issues related to Public Law 280 to address our overcrowded jail. … Because I fully understand these issues, I am the candidate best suited to navigate the sheriff’s office through this period.

White: I will be a sheriff who cares about the citizens of Lake County, with my experience, carrying with me several certifications that are directly and indirectly related to my job. I will be a full-time sheriff who will work alongside the deputies and lead by example. I will be a sheriff who will be seen in the communities, helping to solve the crimes and enforcing the laws. All employees will be required to remain professional and to treat the citizens with respect and dignity, as we are public servants. I will work alongside the community and be transparent with the operation of the sheriff’s office. I am dedicated and motivated to create a better tomorrow for the citizens of Lake County.

Q: What do you believe should be the top priorities for the Lake County sheriff?

Bell: The current top priority is addressing the overcrowded jail. … The fix is very costly, and given the PL-280 arrangement, it should not rest solely upon the shoulders of the Lake County taxpayers. We have never been closer to a solution … than we are now with the efforts of the county commissioners and my office to bring public awareness to the issue and pressure upon the state to hold up its end of the PL-280 deal lawmakers made 60 years ago. The other priority is drugs and drug-related crime. Through partnership with other local, state and federal agencies, we have pooled resources and established critical relationships to fight this epidemic … Solving the jail issue would likely accelerate our success in this priority.

White: Better response times by implementing patrol zones, so that all parts of the county are receiving services on a regular basis; better structure in management that allows a supervisor to be on shift during day shift and night shift; focused drug enforcement by working alongside federal, state and local agencies to increase the focus on drug issues in Lake County; more training for sheriff’s office staff so that they can effectively perform their duties — I will make it a priority to get all Sheriff’s Office staff trained in crisis management; budget sensitive leadership that will ensure that the office is getting the most out of the budget; retaining and training staff properly to lessen the burden on the budget; progress toward a new jail by actively seeking alternative options rather than just talking about it. As sheriff, the blame cannot be placed on the citizens or the county commissioners. It is the sheriff’s job to make sure the community is safe, and getting a new jail is a vital part of this. Part of my plan for a new jail will be to provide inmates with chemical dependency and mental health counseling so they are receiving something to better themselves prior to being released from jail.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

Bell: No response.

White: I am asking for you to do your research and select Corey White for sheriff of Lake County. I am focused on providing a better tomorrow for all and would like to team up with you for a desperately needed change in the Sheriff’s Office.

Ballots are due back to the Election Office at the Lake County Courthouse by 8 p.m. on Tuesday, June 7. Residents may check their voter registration status by visiting app.mt.gov/voterinfo. The county website has a Frequently Asked Questions section on the election at www.lakemt.gov/election/faq.html.

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Lake County Sheriff Don Bell. (Courtesy photo)

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Ronan Police Sgt. Corey White Jr. (Courtesy photo)

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